Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Mimic Life

I think we could all use a break, don't you?

The YouTube gods delivered one to me last night, in this form of this perfectly delightful BBC program featuring the marvelous Simon Callow hosting a compilation of clips, mostly from the '60s, in which the great and good of the British theatre talk about their work and their lives. It's fascinating to hear the contrasting perspectives of, say, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Ralph Richardson, not to mention entirely bewitching to spend some time in the formidable company of the likes of Dames Sybil Thorndike (utterly adorable) and Edith Evans (who is what we called in my youth A Hoot). The younger generation (of the time) are represented, too; Vanessa Redgrave is gorgeous if not terribly cogent, and Maggie Smith predictably bewitches. Richard Burton, wreathed in smoke (as are many, for that matter) is a silent testimony to the ravages of time, nicotine, and alcohol, even that early, for the photographs shown of him in his earlier days show only too clearly just how much of a ruin he already was (but that voice; oh, that voice).

Knowing what we know of them now, it's especially interesting to see Gielgud talk of acting as an way out, " escape. I'm a terrible escapist in life, and to go to a theatre and shut myself up in a dressing room, and come out as somebody else and live a mimic life does give me pleasure... I was always living in some sort of fantasy world." They became Richard II or Romeo, or whomever, possibly, because they couldn't quite be who they were outside that world.

And if nothing else, Noël Coward does what is indisputably the best Noël Coward impression one can imagine.

I would be very interested in a similar compilation of today's luminaries. I doubt they would talk quite so intimately of the theatre as a community or of its traditions ("...and you know, I'd remembered about Mrs. Siddons...."), but I wonder if the very best wouldn't seem just as marvelous. I may not have much time for Kevin Spacey, but he's indisputably a major stage figure; and of course there is Miss Streep. Kevin Kline can doubtless give us some interesting thoughts on making an impression on an audience, and Cherry Jones could likely give Dame Edith a run for her money in terms of keeping one in line.

In any case, it's a lovely glimpse into the vanished world of that particular milieu, and I highly recommend it.


So, as you may have gathered, I didn't run away this weekend. Nerve and energy alike failed me; something about the toxic times in which we live is singularly debilitating, I'm finding, and I'm simply going to have to work harder to fight it all off.

The paradox of it all is that when I finally got up the nerve to mention the idea to the Mister, at dinner on at our favorite local (the dog playing about in a delighted sort of way with the table next door) on Thursday, as an idea I'd had and cast off, he thought it a splendid idea. He really is a peach, and it was rather silly of me to think he might be difficult about it all (shades of the Provincial Lady and her usually beneficent Robert, really). The long and short it, as it turns out, is that I may just go ahead and make a run for it next weekend, although it also turns out that a principal reason for the trip, to see the current Stettheimer show at the Jewish Museum, is less pressing than I thought, as it closes next month, not this. And the Metropolitan, which has been calling to me, will certainly still be there, and possibly less crowded in September than August. But in any case, at the moment, next weekend it may be...


  1. "Always in the last act of As You Like It, there was the smell of steak and chops..."

    Oh, my darling! You have made an old theatrical queen very happy by featuring this magnificent documentary. Sheer joy. Jx

    1. Isn't it lovely? A lost world. I want to have tea (or something stronger) with Dame Edith Evans and just listen forever.