(Ryan Gilbey’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/1.)
In 1960, Orson Welles directed Laurence Olivier in a stage production of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Also in the cast was Olivier’s future wife, Joan Plowright, for whom he was about to leave Vivien Leigh. Welles and Olivier locked horns from the off. The director, still sore from an unhappy Dublin run of his Shakespearean play Chimes at Midnight, accused the actor of undermining him. “Instead of making it hard for me to direct him, he made it almost impossible for me to direct the cast,” Welles later complained. “He got them off in little groups and had quiet little rehearsals having nothing to do with me.” By the time the play opened at the Royal Court in London, Welles was its director in name only, having been told by Olivier that his presence at rehearsals was not required. It was, Welles conceded, “a black moment”.
The episode forms the basis of Orson’s Shadow, first staged in 2000 but only now receiving its European premiere. This piece of speculative fact-based fiction was written by the 75-year-old playwright Austin Pendleton, best known as a comic character actor – he was a giddy delight alongside Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and played the stammering attorney in My Cousin Vinny.