Category Archives: Books

‘I THREW MY ARMS AROUND BECKETT!’ – ELECTRIFYING FIRST NIGHTS, BY CIARÁN HINDS, EILEEN ATKINS AND MORE ·

(Dominic Dromgoole’s article appeared in the Guardian 10/26; via Pam Green; Photo: A hallucinatory experience’ … Frances Barber with Amanda Abbington and Reece Shearsmith in The Unfriend. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

The author of a new book about the greatest openings in theatre history asks stars of stage to recall their most thrilling first nights – and the occasional disasters that befell them

History has no shortage of explosive first nights and openings. Moments in public art when the concerns of an epoch meet the truths of artists and catalyse a volcanic response. These are the nights when pins can be heard dropping, when time is stretched into unforeseen patterns, when success is grasped or failure faced. For artists they are electrifying. Here are some stories from the frontline.

‘Beckett stood there like a stone but I carried on’

Eileen Atkins, attending Beckett’s Play, 1964
There were three figures on the vast Old Vic stage, all encased in jars. They did the same script twice through. Mad about Beckett anyway, I was overwhelmed by the cleverness and what it did to my brain. It was extraordinary the difference in effect when done at first one pace, then an entirely different one. The whole meaning shifted. Later I was in a car when I saw the director George Devine walking along with a man. I leapt out and shouted: “George, George, I just saw your amazing play.” “Well, say hello to the author,” he said and there was Samuel Beckett. I threw my arms around him and he stood like a stone. I wasn’t going to let him make me feel abashed, so I carried on.

‘The silences that night were spellbinding’

Anne Reid, The York Realist, Royal Court, 2003
I had no idea this was such a good play. The first time I read it, I thought: “Oh no, not another northern mother. Boring.” I was 64 and I’d never worked in London before. Peter Gill directed it so beautifully. Everything was specific in its choreography: this is the height to hold a teapot, this is how to take off and hang a coat. Whatever the action, he said if you take your time and present it, the audience will find it interesting. And he was so definite about pace: play the first scene legato, the second pizzicato – he really knew the music of a scene. The silences in the theatre that night … spellbinding! Later, we went to the Royal Court bar and as Peter walked down the stairs everyone burst into applause.

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TOM STOPPARD’S ‘LEOPOLDSTADT’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope  and significance, about the need to win,  and  to always find a way to win:  in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century.  There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme:  the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West.  Instead, in Patrick Marber’s first-rate production,  a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography,  is by Isaac Madge and sound  design and original music are by Adam Cork), with  allusions, in terms of writing,  to Anna Karenina, Chekhov,  Hedda  Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre,  may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family.  The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.

For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as:   “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . .  prevent(ing it from) . . .  coalescing (157).”  The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg  express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture.  Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention).  Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell.  A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.  

Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion.  Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography).  There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also,  to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three.  A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist:  Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?

Recommended.

Copyright © Bob Shuman; all rights reserved.

Press:  Michelle Farabaugh, Angela Yamarone, Boneau/Bryan-Brown

(Photo from the London production.)

John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).

(via BBB, Adrian Bryan-Brown / Michelle Farabaugh / Angela Yamarone )

★★★★★

“Magnificent!

Sir Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece. GO!”

The Independent

Leopoldstadt,

Stoppard’s 19th Production on Broadway,

Previews Begin Wednesday, September 14

Opening Sunday, October 2

In a Limited Engagement at the Longacre Theatre

 LeopoldstadtPlay.com

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Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman ProductionsRoy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.

 

Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson* (The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big RiverA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The BedwetterCaroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present LaughterThe Wolves), Aaron Neil* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (TravestiesWar Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, FalsettosBurn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.

* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.

Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).

Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.

Leopoldstadt will mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.

Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurance begins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick MarberLeopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.

Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion KingLa Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildCompanyTravesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (RedTravesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, and hair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.

Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are on sale online at Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200.

For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or call 866-302-0995.

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JULIE ANDREWS AND EMMA WALTON HAMILTON TALK ABOUT TAKING THEIR CHILDREN’S BOOK EMPIRE TO THE STAGE ·

(Harry Haun’s article appeared in the Observer, 8/22; via Pam Green.)

‘The Great American Mousical’ — one of the 31 children’s books written by the mother and daughter team — takes it first steps toward a 2023 run in Los Angeles.

Sometime after Victor/Victoria opened on Broadway in 1995, a small, solitary mouse made its way up from the bowels of the Marriott Marquis Theater and into the theater’s wardrobe room. Julie Andrews, then inhabiting both title roles, got the word from her hairdresser, who told her traps were set.

The actress reacted to this news with a combination of horror and compassion that one could expect from somebody who owes her Mary Poppins Oscar to the guy who created Mickey Mouse: “Oh, could you please make sure they put down humane traps? If you catch the little mouse, don’t kill it. Take it out somewhere far away so it can have a life in the country.”

Andrews sheepishly confesses to this response: “The hairdresser looked at me as if I were mad, then said, ‘Julie, the theaters on Broadway are riddled with mice in the basement. There are probably hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of mice under here. This one probably just came up to look at all the stars.’ And that made us laugh. Then, I suddenly had a lightbulb about that notion and started thinking, ‘Oh, my God! A troupe of mice in the basement of a great theater! Wonder if they are putting on their own shows downstairs for their own audiences.’”

She took this idea to her usual collaborator—her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, who is as theater-savvy as her mother. With husband Stephen Hamilton and producer Sybil Christopher, Hamilton founded the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York, 31 years ago and has been running it ever since—all this, while simultaneously writing 31 children’s books with Andrews.

 “The more we talked about it, the more excited we became,” Hamilton admits. “What a way to bring the magic of theater down to a kind of manageable scale for young readers! Within this troupe of mice could be all the classic characters of any theater, whether human or mouse: the director, the difficult leading lady, the intern, the weary producer, the hysterical hairdresser. 

(Read more)

CHILDREN’S BOOKS—AWARD FOR ‘THE LONG SHADOW’ BY PHYLLIS WHEELER ·

(via Phylliswheeler.com

Phyllis Wheeler’s novel The Long Shadow (Elk Lake Publishing), represented by Marit Literary Agency, has won a Purple Dragonfly Award!

These awards are judged by Story Monsters Ink Magazine, focused on children’s literature. Wheeler’s award is in the historical category. This is significant in the indie publishing world.

Rejoice!

The Long Shadow is a time-travel adventure for upper middle grade, 13 and up. Click and see the new cover, too! Find out more.

THE LONG SHADOW 

by Phyllis Wheeler

View on Amazon

Winner of a Purple Dragonfly Award

Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Five stars! A young teen finds himself propelled through time . . . –Susan K. Marlow, author of Andi Carter books

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.

REBECCA HUMPHRIES ON LIFE AFTER THAT STRICTLY DEBACLE: ‘I FELT AS IF I HAD A VOICE AGAIN. MAYBE ONE THAT MATTERED’ ·

(Michael Hogan’s article appeared in the Observer, 7/10; via Pam Green.)

The actor’s breakup with comedian Seann Walsh went viral after he cheated on her with his dance partner and she responded with a tweet. Now she’s written an unflinching, very funny memoir

Rebecca Humphries’s 32nd birthday was one to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. On 3 October 2018, the actor was waiting at home alone, wearing a red silk dress and keeping a celebratory dinner for two warm. Meanwhile her boyfriend, the comedian Seann Walsh, was at the pub, kissing Katya Jones, his married professional partner on Strictly Come Dancing. When paparazzi photographs of their embrace were splashed across tabloid front pages, a scandal erupted. Humphries’ relationship, and her whole world, publicly collapsed.

The next day, she tweeted a statement which began: “My name is Rebecca Humphries and I am not a victim.” It described how, during their five-year relationship, Walsh called her “mental” and “psycho” whenever she questioned inappropriate or hurtful behaviour. His multiple other infidelities would emerge later. In the meantime, her tweet went viral, gaining her 20,000 new followers overnight. Now it was Humphries’s turn to monopolise front pages. One gleeful headline read: “You’re cha-cha-chucked!” Another hailed her as “the real winner of Strictly”.

Humphries – currently appearing in Ten Percent (Amazon Prime), the UK version of the hit French TV series Call My Agent! – was deluged with invitations to appear on television and radio and to write newspaper columns about toxic relationships and emotional abuse. On behalf of the organisers of the Women’s March London, she spoke in the House of Commons about gaslighting and the media. “I became an accidental figurehead,” she says.

Now she has written an extraordinary memoir, Why Did You Stay?. Described as “dazzling” by Marian Keyes and “fierce”, “gamechanging” and “brilliant” by Emma Thompson, the book is neither a kiss’n’tell, nor a revenge tragedy. Alternating between episodes from her relationship with Walsh and the aftermath of the Strictly debacle, it becomes a chilling study of insidious control and male-female power games. Unflinching and often very funny, it’s also a diary of self-discovery, an account of finding one’s self-worth, a celebration of resilience and a hymn to the value of friendship.

Tell us about the book’s title, Why Did You Stay?
It’s the question that those of us who’ve had difficult relationships get asked more than anything else. It’s victim-shaming, but it’s also the question that stays with us and has the potential to eat us up. So I’m reclaiming it.

You write that what happened was your worst nightmare come true. Really?
I’d catastrophised that exact scenario. Two months earlier, a friend asked me: “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said: “He has an affair with his dance partner and it’s splashed all over the tabloids for my friends and family to see.” I blurted that straight out. At that point, the relationship was my everything. I was watering a dead plant for a long time. It was all I had left. But when it broke up, that’s when my life started.

How did it feel when your tweet went viral?
Before I met Seann in 2013, I was somebody who people listened to. I was forthright and always had opinions. But those five years were a slow process of eroding my personality, feeling as if I had no voice and my opinion didn’t matter. When I decided to tweet a statement, I told my friends: “It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes it. This is for me. And maybe it’ll get like, 50 likes.” When the numbers started totting up, I felt as if I had a voice again. Maybe one that mattered.

Are you still getting supportive replies?
It never stops. Mostly from people that it resonates with, which says something about how common this is. Thousands came forward who’d been through the same. They understood what I was trying to say, which was: I was a smart, sexy, confident, clever woman and I can’t believe this happened to me. Victims of this behaviour don’t all look like submissive mice. It’s insidious when you see abuse victims in pop culture, because they’re often portrayed like that.

Do you feel like you had to write this book?
I did, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. When I tweeted, I felt a similar sense of responsibility for the many who’ve had these experiences but don’t have a platform. And when you voice your shame, it disappears. I want to encourage more people to do the same. So much of the book is about ending victimhood. Nora Ephron said in Heartburn that she didn’t want to be the victim of her story, she wanted to be the heroine. That’s exactly how I felt.

Can you watch Strictly now?
I still watch it. Strictly’s great. None of this is Strictly’s fault.

(Read more)

 

REAGAN REMEMBERS D-DAY—PART OF THE BOOK ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS’ BY JOHN B. ROBERTS II ·

Reagan’s Cowboys is something of a memoir of Roberts’s career with the 40th president, and as such, it’s a time machine back to the days of typewriters, hard-line telephones, and Marlboro cigarettes. .. Be grateful to Roberts for giving us history as it actually happened, uncensored and un-politically corrected. … [He] gives us glimpses of a huge cast of characters in Reaganworld.”―James P. Pinkerton, Breitbart  

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REVEALED: NOËL COWARD’S UNSEEN PLAYS AIMED TO DEAL WITH HOMOSEXUALITY ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/8; Photo:  Noël Coward in 1953. Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images.)

Playwright planned scenes on same-sex relationship at a time when it was illegal and British theatres faced strict censorship

Noël Coward worked on two plays that openly featured same-sex relationships at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England, and strict censorship laws governed theatres, new research reveals.

The master playwright was planning to write about a homosexual triangle in one play and to confront homophobic prejudice in another, according to an unpublished letter of 1960 and an unknown scene for an unfinished 1967 drama.

The discoveries have been made by Russell Jackson, emeritus professor of drama at the University of Birmingham, who told the Observer: “I was surprised to find this evidence that Coward wanted to deal more frankly with homosexuality than he had ever been able to before in a play.”

It was not until 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men in England and Wales aged 21 and over, and 1968 when the Theatres Act repealed a law that had enabled the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to censor or ban any play.

Under the Licensing Act of 1737 and the Theatres Act of 1843, it had been a legal requirement for all plays intended for public performance to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing. Plays deemed indecent or offensive could be rejected or censored, although by the end of the 1950s, playwrights sensed new freedoms.

Jackson said: “As a gay man, Coward exercised discretion in his public persona. And as a playwright, until the last decade of his career, he was constrained by the theatrical censorship of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office from directly addressing homosexuality.”

He continued: “A number of Coward’s published and performed plays had included identifiably – if not explicitly – gay or lesbian characters. The emphasis in A Song at Twilight in 1966 would not be on the central character’s homosexuality in itself, but the subterfuges by which he had managed to pass as heterosexual.”

Coward, a playwright, actor and composer, died in 1973, aged 73. He was the son of an unsuccessful piano salesman and was raised as a working-class boy in the south-west London suburb of Teddington.

Making his name in 1924 with a serious play, The Vortex, about a drug-addicted son and dissolute mother, he became one of the foremost playwrights of the 20th century, best-known for classic comedies including Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives and as the co-writer of David Lean’s classic 1945 film, Brief Encounter.

The 1960 letter was written by his much-loved assistant Lorn Loraine, who had worked for him since the 1930s and whose opinions he greatly valued. It reveals that Coward had created a love triangle between three men – called Owen, Trevor and John – one of whom appears to be married.

“Darling master,” Loraine wrote, “I have thought a lot about this play outline and I feel strongly that [it] must be treated entirely psychologically and with restraint and no sign of melodrama.

“I have been wondering whether it would be a good idea for Trevor to have had an affair with Owen Fletcher but to be really, all the time, deeply and jealously in love with John – a love which John has never returned and which has therefore turned sour.”

Jackson said that in 1967 Coward started writing a play called Age Cannot Wither, some of which has been published: “But there’s a part of it that’s not – the second scene.”

(Read more)

U.K. EXAM BOARD ADDS NEW PLAYS BY WRITERS OF COLOUR TO DRAMA GCSE AND A-LEVEL ·

(Sally Weale’s article appeared in the UK Guardian, 4/27; The Empress by Tanika Gupta is one of four new plays added to AQA’s GCSE drama curriculum. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

The Empress by Tanika Gupta among new additions in attempt to diversify AQA’s offering for drama students in England

Drama students will have the opportunity to study a more diverse curriculum at GCSE and A-level with the addition of four new plays by writers of colour.

AQA, the biggest examination board in England, says the texts are part of a range of measures to update and revise its qualifications to ensure they better reflect the diversity of students and their teachers.

The new plays at GCSE level will include a thriller by Francis Turnly which is based on the true story of Japanese citizens who were abducted by the North Korean regime in the 1970s and 80s.

The Empress by Tanika Gupta, which tells the story of Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant Abdul Karim and an Indian nanny called Rani Das, will also be added to the GCSE curriculum.

The new A-level texts include a reworking of Chekhov’s Three sisters by Inua Ellams, located in 1960s Nigeria, and Danai Gurira’s The Convert, which tells the story of a young Shona girl who flees an arranged marriage by converting to Christianity.

The exam board’s GCSE drama qualification already includes the well-known stage adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, which reverses traditional racial stereotypes and shows racial prejudice from a different perspective.

The texts will be available to study from September, with examinations taking place two years later. AQA is scheduling free online training events to give teachers a practical toolkit to prepare for and teach the new texts.

The exam board will also provide information about the social and historical backgrounds of each text, and cover topics such as stereotypes, accents and casting. It will also look at how to teach texts currently on the curriculum, with a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Sandra Allan, AQA’s head of curriculum for creative arts, said: “We’ve chosen these plays because of the rich opportunities they’ll offer our teachers and students to explore a diverse range of themes including race and social issues.

(Read more)

NEW EVIDENCE SUGGESTS SHAKESPEARE MAY HAVE STOLEN THE PLOT OF CYMBELINE ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Observer, 4/24; PhotoTom Hiddleston as Posthumus and Jodie McNee as Innogen in Cymbeline at the Barbican in 2007. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Notes from a 1533 book put Sir Thomas North in the frame for one of the bard’s later plays

A rare 16th-century book offers “compelling evidence” that William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was inspired by a now-lost play by Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier and writer, new research claims.

A 1533 edition of Fabyan’s Chronicle, a compendium of British and French history from Roman times to Henry VII, bears notes in the margin in North’s hand that have been linked to the plot and other details of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, set in Roman Britain.

Michael Blanding, who unearthed the book in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, said the marginalia could not have been based on Shakespeare’s play because North died about six years before the conventionally accepted date of its first performance, 1609-10.

“It is a revolutionary discovery that is hard to interpret in any other way than that North used the book to write notes for his own play, which Shakespeare later adapted,” he said.

The marginalia have been analysed by an independent researcher, Dennis McCarthy, who since 2005 has used plagiarism software to reveal links between Hamlet, among other plays, and North’s writings. His research inspired Blanding’s book North by Shakespeare, published by Hachette last year and to be released shortly as a paperback, retitled In Shakespeare’s Shadow.

Since then, Blanding has tracked down dozens of 16th-century books once owned by the North family. Several bear North’s marginalia.

Blanding said that, while North is known as the translator of Plutarch’s Lives, a recognised source for Shakespeare’s Roman plays, the marginalia in Fabyan’s Chronicle “often provides a point-by-point correspondence with the historical plot of Cymbeline”.

“For example, both the marginalia and the play refer to Julius Caesar’s repeated attempts to invade Britain, and display an obsessive focus on the theme of tributes being paid to Rome by British kings,” Blanding said. “In addition, both focus on Cymbeline’s sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, include a strategy of a character disguising himself to kill an enemy, and incorporate a battle by a ‘wall of turfs’, historically fought in Scotland.”

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