KENNETH TYNAN: THEATRE WRITINGS
Selected and Edited by Dominic Shellard
Nick Hern Books, pub 2007
ISBN: 978 – 1 – 85459 – 050 – 3/ 9 781854 590503
Review: Rod Dungate: 19 February 2007
Glorious: crammed with jewels
I reviewed Kenneth Tynan’s PROFILES earlier this year (you’ll see the review on the site); I called it ‘marvellous’ and have no intention of changing my mind. However, for me at least, it’s nudged into the shadows by the gloriousness of this collection of writings.
If you are interested in getting a powerful feeling for all that was important in theatre (mostly, though not entirely, British theatre) from 1944 to 1962, you must read this book. I’ll repeat that – you must read this book.
Glancing through the contents you are only too aware of the importance of that period. Tynan saw the giant theatre knights of the times – one of whom I can’t abide and Guinness whom I think the greatest. He saw the ground shaking plays, too, those that changed the face of our drama. Luckily for us, he doesn’t merely record these events, he gives us a real feel for them; a magical knack. Here are a few tasters . . .
GUYS AND DOLLS (1953): ‘A hundred-per-cent American musical caper cooked up . . . by the late Damon Runyon, who is such a scribe as delights to give the English language a nice kick in the pants.’ WAITING FOR GODOT (1955): ‘It summoned the music hall and the parable to present a view of life which banished the sentimentality of the music hall and the parable’s fulsome uplift.’ LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1956): ‘The Porters of our time deplore the tyranny of ‘good taste’ and refuse to accept ‘emotional’ as a term of abuse; they are classless, and they are also leaderless. Mr. Osborne is their first spokesman in the London theatre.’ And finally, BEYOND THE FRINGE (1961): He describes the opening in great detail because ‘Future historians may well thank me for providing them with a full account of the moment when English comedy took its first decisive step into the second half of the twentieth century.’
I should point out that you don’t have to agree with him on everything he writes – he loathed Beckett’s ENDGAME and KRAPP, for instance . . . but then, I’m told, so do a lot of people . . .
On page after page you can only gasp at Tynan’s ability to encapsulate great meanings in an apt and polished phrase – he seems never unable to find the right words for the right occasion. ‘The English hoard words like misers; the Irish spend them like sailors’ (THE QUARE FELLOW, 1956.) Speaking of dramatic poetry he says of Chekhov, that he ‘proved that in the theatre words were not paramount but auxiliary, not tyrants but collaborators; working alongside atmosphere and the movement of character, they could produce a poetic effect in prose.’
Tynan records, entertains and teaches, seemingly effortlessly. This is a book crammed with jewels; and lest we get dazzled and lose our way, editor Dominic Shellard’s helpful and informative notes heading each review or article, gently hold our hand.
Well, that’s my Desert Island Discs book sorted.
To buy the book visit Nick Hern Books website – www.nickhernbooks.co.uk – or use this Amzon Link