Round-up: Ibsen, casting, abseil

I’ve been working with the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme on Abbey Wright’s forthcoming production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. At one point, one of the actors thanked me for “all my work” with them. Now, obviously I used “work” twice in that sentence, but a better definition for this part of my job would encompass “playing around in a rehearsal room whilst simultaneously making my research do something practical and seeing amazing characters come alive in front of my face” (this is, for me, the greatest joy and secret of directing or dramaturging plays: people voluntarily act out your favourite plays for you, in front of you, in ways influenced by your suggestions and wishes), rather than anything suggestive of painful industry or anxious effort. In addition to knowing the texts with a terrifying and hungry accuracy, actors routinely and almost upsettingly ask the best questions. This is true whenever I get into a rehearsal room. Generally these questions nag me forever. Usually, answering them (when I can) exposes something fascinating, offensive or just plain weird about the way theatre works and has worked. Days spent in theatres are my best professional days. I can’t wait to see Ghosts in action.

I’m also researching for my new project at Magdalen College’s Calleva Centre. At the moment, I’m hugely interested in (and reading everything possible about) casting in theatre – especially Shakespeare. The above trip to the New Vic was very helpful, since (PLOT TWIST) actors have quite a lot to say about the casting process (rather more, in fact, than existing scholarship). So far, I’ve been reading lots about colour-blind casting, gender-blind casting, and disability-conscious casting (in order of volume). I’m definitely looking for more actors, directors, and (above all) casting directors to discuss this with. 

I have moved into my new office. It is up a lot of stairs. I am working to publicise a charity abseil (more on that soon). That will involve a lot of stars too. 

Mrs Patrick Campbell and George Cornwallis-West

Mrs Pat as Paula Tanqueray.

At the moment, I’m researching Mrs. Patrick Campbell (born Beatrice Tanner; familiarly called Stella). Mrs. Campbell is most famous for her “Pinerotic” roles in the 1890s, such as The Second Mrs Tanqueray and The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith; for her Hedda Gabler; and as the original Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

I, however, am interested in her Shakespearean roles. In the late 1880s and until about 1893, she had several successes in roles like Rosalind; then, at the other end of the decade, she played the trio of tragic roles that most interest me. These were, in order, Juliet (1895), Ophelia (1897) and Lady Macbeth (1898).

With the Bodleian Library doing various interminable and obscure things in the way of moving book depositories, I wasn’t able to get my hands on Mrs. Pat’s autobiography for weeks, and ended up reading everything but; finally, I caved, and bought it myself, on Ebay.
I originally conceived my doctoral project as a study of Shakespearean actresses’ autobiographies (and later, as a study of writings by actresses on the women of the Late Plays), and even though my textual focus has shifted (both in and out), I feel as if, until now, my research has been hobbled by not having My Life and Some Letters in front of me.

I may say that Mrs Pat’s name-dropping makes Madge Kendal and Constance Benson look positively restrained. I enjoy old theatrical memoirs very much for their own sake (and am looking forward to reading Irene Vanbrugh’s, on Simon’s recommendation), but this one balances incredibly useful, challenging/problematic insights (v. wholesome and good for thesis) with delicious and irresistible snobbery. Bless her, it seems she had no friends without titles. She makes me want to be called Frances something, COUNTESS of MADEUPPLACE. And then write gushy, borderline-homoerotic letters to actresses. An impulse which society cruelly demands I subdue.

Campbell is much more open about her life than Langtry (although omitting the affair with Johnston Forbes-Robertson) and – unlike Ellen Terry – absolutely fascinating in her detailed discussion of her children. I’ve just got to the bit where her son, Beo, dies in the First World War. For the first time reading one of these memoirs, I found myself welling up.

I’m also interested in Campbell’s apparently disastrous second marriage, which goes from huge affection (her son, particularly, seems to have held him in high esteem) to breakdown in a very few pages. Reading about the suicide of Elizabeth Robins’s first husband, who put on a suit of armour, then jumped into the Charles River; and about the complicated life of William Hunter Kendal has interested me in theatrical husbands.

George Cornwallis-West.

Mrs Patrick Campbell’s second husband was George Cornwallis-West. Major Cornwallis-West (who had been rumoured to be Edward VII’s lovechild) first married the stunning Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston and twenty years his senior; he remarried to Stella Campbell just five days after their divorce. The marriage broke down in 1921; Cornwallis-West also seems to have been plagued by financial troubles for most of his life. In 1940, the year of Stella’s death, he remarried for a third time, to a Mrs. Georgette Hirsch. In 1951, while suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, he took his own life.

Never a dull moment, with this lot, but what sad & eventful stories.

Call To Register: Oxford English Graduate Conference “The Famed and The Forgotten”

Registration is now open for The Famed and The Forgotten, taking place on 10th June in Oxford University’s English Faculty.

45 student speakers from Oxford and around the UK will be delivering papers on the concepts of ‘famed’ and ‘forgotten’, interrogated in the broadest possible terms across genres and periods encompassing Old English to the literature of the present day.

A panel discussion on “The Future of Reading” featuring representatives from Oxford University Press, SHM Productions consultancy and the Oxford English Faculty will take place, and we will hear a keynote address from Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively.

The £15 attendance fee covers lunch, snacks and all conference materials. Please register via our website – http://graduate-conference.english.ox.ac.uk/ – or with an email to claire [dot] waters [at] ell [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Then, confirm your place by sending a cheque or postal order for £15 made out to the University of Oxford to Claire Waters, St Catherine’s College, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UJ.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Eleanor Marx, George Bernard Shaw & Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

Eleanor Marx
Eleanor Marx

Before its June 1889 premiere at the Novelty Theatre, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was twice staged in the capital; once in 1885, and once in 1886. In 1886, it was given  in a private performance in a Bloomsbury lodging-house, with George Bernard Shaw as Krogstad, and ELEANOR MARX as Nora. ELEANOR MARX (interesting 2005 article here from the Socialist Worker). Can you imagine? How wonderful to have been there.

My, but there’s a lot to be said for reading your tutor’s book. I love theatre history. The 1889 premiere of A Doll’s House starred Janet Achurch as Nora, Herbert Waring as Torvald and Achurch’s husband, Charles Charrington, as Dr. Rank. Achurch gave a famous interview in the midst of the critical furore which followed (Clement Scott, predictably, managed to get nearly as angry about Nora as he would about Hedda two years later – and he called Hedda the most ‘morally repulsive woman to appear on stage’), saying that Nora was ‘perfectly right’ to leave her husband, as she famously does at the end of the play (also notable, but less positive, was Achurch’s morphine addiction, following a disastrous labour and stillbirth, which eventually killed her). She even defended Nora’s abandoning her children, which the Daily Telegraph critic said ‘no women breathing’ would have done. Other reading delights today have included Alan’s Wife by Elizabeth Robins (my new obsession – apparently late Victorian & Edwardian Britain was full of awesome feminist playwrights), wherein woman kills disabled child. In, you know, 1893. If you have Muse access, Katherine E. Kelly has a really interesting article here.

Linkspam

  • The ‘British Wildcats‘, the group massing behind the ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ union-rejected strikes, is BNP-affiliated, as revealed by The Ministry Of Truth. Proof? here.
  • Wednesday’s Front Row on Radio 4 had an interesting item on the history of Sex Education films. There are some hilarious examples of teen information films on YouTube (I love What To Do On A Date, from 1950), as well as a parody from Colbert, Dinello & Sedaris, How To Be Popular.
  • And, finally, Clamorous Voice has been listed on WordPress’s Feb 02 list of Growing Blogs! Okay, so it’s small, but I’m still pleased. I love watching where people are coming from (bizarrely, a lot of people seem to find this blog by searching for ‘Michelle Obama’… fortunately the other popular search terms, like ‘bodleian’ or, er, ‘david tennant’ make a lot more sense), it’s sort of addictive.


England in ‘cannot cope with snow’ shock.

4.5 members of our seminar group (Sam, Michael, Lisa, Lisa’s-boyfriend-who-has-a-reader’s-card and myself) are in the Bodleian. Through the windows, we can see snow falling on the Rad Cam, the New Bodleian, and the colleges beyond Broad Street.

The power has gone out.

And, this morning, the age-old editor’s dilemma: do I send my reviewer to London in semi-blizzard conditions, knowing that the buses are delayed and there are at least fourteen closures/disruptions on the Underground?

Yes. Yes I do. (‘Look, you’re only doing Notting Hill to Sloane Square, and there are plenty of people you can stay with…’).

If she dies in a snowbank, I’m going to feel terrible (1,000 words!).

Oxfordshire Snow Linkspam

  • As ever, the meterological freakery that is Oxford gets BBC attention!
  • Carfax webcam; the dome in the top left corner is one we can see from our window.
  • Keble mathmo posts this beautiful picture of Pusey Quad. I haven’t been over to my college yet today (I’m in this evening), will try and get some photos.

Back to reading A Doll’s House (1879) (the only play I ever saw that made me worried I’d stand up and shout at the stage. I remember digging my nails into the armrests).