Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I have had an e-mail from a lady by the name of Helen Rappaport who has had a book published on the life of Madame Rachel, called naturally enough BEAUTIFUL FOR EVER, and the reason she got in touch is because she knew I had written a play of this name and on this subject way back in 1962. Considering the play, apart from one or two amateur productions, has hardly ever been performed I was amazed that she even knew about it so how did it come about? Well, he breathes in hushed and reverent tones, there is evidently a copy of it in the Bodleian. Golly gosh! Me in the Bodleian! Amazement on my eyebrow sits. The reason for her getting in touch is that there was evidently an even earlier play that John Gielgud wanted to get on and did I know anything about it? To which regretfully the answer is no so I can’t be any help there. I don’t know why she would be so interested as her book is finished but she says Gielgud wanted Margaret Rutherford for Madame Rachel, a very strange piece of casting. In that period I would have thought Flora Robson a better choice except she would probably have said, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly play a part like that. What would my fans think” When I was in that awful play at The Haymarket some years ago I tried to interest Dulcie Grey in playing Mrs Borrowdaile but got nowhere. I have to admit they are two parts that only a truly dedicated actress, rather than a star, would consider doing. I saw the first amateur production in Wales and was most impressed with the play in that it stood up gallantly to the worst kind of amateurism, bless their hearts. Anyway, Chris has ordered the book so I look forward to reading it. “No more books!” Once more it is a cry from Douglas’s heart. There is absolutely no more shelf space.
But books can be such a treasure. One that I have just finished reading, published by The Society for Theatre Research and which is just such a treasure is called, ‘A Chronicle of Small Beer’ and it has been a fascinating, I could even say enchanting, book to read. It is by a minor Victorian actress, Winifred Dolan who spent only 11 of her 81 years in the theatre, but what a feisty young lady she must have been when women were expected to know their place and, despite the Ellen Terrys of this world, their place was definitely not in the theatre, not respectable young ladies anyway. But, apart from the enjoyment of reading about her, it was also most interesting to read about Victorian/Edwardian theatre in England as such and I was particularly interested in what she had to say about plays and playwrights. “If acting is a gamble,” she writes, “play-writing is worse.” She worked a great deal both as actress and in various other capacities for the actor/manager George Alexander and writes that in his office there was always a pile of manuscripts at least two feet high waiting for consideration which meant they were kept for three or four months. Well, in my opinion and knowing how long managements take these days to read your script, if at all, and if they bother to let you know the result, that was pretty good going and all sorts of circumstances can prevent even an accepted play from being produced. She tried her hand at play-writing and went through it all so was talking from first hand experience and once again I say (you must be getting really bored with this) nothing ever changes, not in the theatre anyway. I absolutely loved this book. I wish I could have known Miss Dolan and I only wish this biography will have a wider circulation than just membership of the society.

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