TALKING THEATRE: Interviews with Theatre People, Richard Eyre
Nick Hern Books
Recommended Price 20.00

Review: Rod Dungate, 27.12.09

Like Dr Who’s Tardis – bigger on the inside than on the outside.
This is a compelling collection of interviews for all of us interested in the journey towards our contemporary theatre. It’s powerful partly because of its range, partly because of the intelligence and experience of Richard Eyre himself and of all those he interviews. But its greatest strength may come from its form.

TALKING THEATRE stems from interviews Eyre carried out in preparation for his six part BBC series CHANGING STAGES. For his book he edits down many of the transcripts into a publishable form. So what we have in this collection is a giddying distillation of the thinking of more than forty leading practitioners. Yet these are interview transcripts, so they are astoundingly readable. The things the practitioners say may be enlightening, even profound, but they retain the immediacy or freshness of the spoken word.

Directors Peter Brook and Peter Hall are included, as are actors Ian McKellan, Judi Dench, Fiona Shaw. Gieldgud in what he has to say seems to bridge the gap between an old style and our contemporary style, while Ayckbourn wittily contemplates his changes over more than forty years: ‘I started off as ‘Mr Light Ent‘ . . . very light plays. Then somebody told me I was a bit like Chekhov, so I started steaming that way, and tat’s a very dangerous pond you sail across . . . . ‘ In an entirely unpretentious way McKellan speaks about acting: ‘I can’t be believable in a part unless I’ve absorbed the character’s experience somehow into my own experience . . . ‘

Just as enlightening are interviews with people less well-known to some of us. Designer Margaret ‘Percy‘ Harris (1904 – 2000) beautifully speaks about the radical changes in theatre design in her lifetime. ‘Commercial’ director Frith Banbury explains clearly why he considers Gerald du Maurier to be a naturalistic actor: ‘He was the epitome of the well-dressed, well-bred gentleman, I suppose you could say, and this was what the audiences of the time wanted to see . . . . I used to go and see an actor called Matheson Lang with the deep throaty voice when he did THE WANDERING JEW. Well, du Maurier was a reaction against all that overly theatrical sort of style.’ Like many of Eyre’s interviewees, Banbury brilliantly encapsulates a movement or a seismic shift.

I can only scratch the surface of this jewel-box of a collection. You will find Sondheim discussing the development of music theatre, Stephen Rea on the importance of Irish playwrights, and even Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Johnston MC (who was a censor in the Lord Chamberlain’s office.)

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2009-12-27 16:33:40

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