Kenneth Tynan PROFILES
Collected and Edited by Kathleen Tynan and Ernie Eban
Nick Hern Books, published in 2007 as a paperback original
ISBN: 978 – 1 – 85459 – 943 – 8 / 9 781854 599438
Review: Rod Dungate, 3 February 2007
(links to Nick Hern Books and Amazon below)
(A companion book, KENNETH TYNAN THEATRE WRITINGS, will be reviewed on the site shortly)
Read it, relish it, and return to it oftenThis is a marvellous book. If it were to have a fault – which it doesn’t – it’s that there’s so much of it. But then, the amount of it, is it’s great strength. Here, collected in one volume, are revealing word portraits from one of the greatest of writers about performance of the twentieth century. Subjects range from Orson Welles to W C Fields, from Joan Littlewood to Brecht and Mel Brooks, from Coward to Gielgud, Richardson and the Crazy Gang. Most of the profiles are short, so you are free to pick the book up and put it down, savouring each profile as you might a dark, Belgian chocolate treat.
Perhaps we think of Tynan as a savage wit; if so this fascinating collection puts the record straight. There is no hint of a scalpel cruelly wielded here; a nick or too, yes – but his wit, while it may delight, is always, always revealing. I am loathe to quote from this book – the danger is that I shall merely reprint the whole thing – but I shall attempt restraint. So . . . a spoonful of witty revelations. Of Charles Laughton, ‘I asked him yesterday why he chose Hollywood. From the depths of his face he said: ‘I’m far less scared of the camera and American audiences than I am of English ones.’’ Of Coward: ‘Coward’s triumph is to have been born into his own era; he belongs to it as ineradicably as the five-piece jazz band and the electric razor.’ (I leave you to discover the male impersonator one.) And how about this of Alec Guinness? – ‘Guinness is a master of anonymity.’
I’m in danger of representing Tynan’s writing as frivolous, it is far from fivolous. He goes on, for instance, in Guinness’s case to say; ‘He can – and this is rare – act mind, and may be the only actor alive who could play a genius convincingly: Donne, for instance, Milton, Pope or even Shakespeare.’ Tynan’s writing is easy-going, fluid, far from heavy; yet you are never in any doubt that this is writing from a man of giant intellect, knowledge to match and acute powers of analysis and observation.
Tynan surprises: (Of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble at Schiffbauerdamm) ‘Whenever I approach the place, I still feel a frisson of expectation, an anticipatory lift, that no other theatre evokes.’ Tynan teaches and informs: (Of Joan Littlewood) ‘In 1945 she formed her own company of actors, Theatre Workshop, in pursuit of a dream of theatre as a place of communal celebration, a Left-wing shrine of Dionysus dedicated to wiping the puritan frown off the popular image of Socialist art. After two decades of toil, the dream is coming to pass. . . . Others write plays, direct them or act in them: she alone ‘makes theatre’’.
One other pleasure comes from reading this collection, Tynan is a consummate writer. Not only is their joy in the revelations he offers, but there is also joy in the manner of their revealing. Yes, this is a book to pick up and put down as you please, but it’s also a book to go back to again and again . . . and again.
To buy the book on-line visit Nick Hern Books (www.nickhernbooks.co.uk) or use the Amazon Link below.