Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Stars

Man proposes, God disposes or, in my case as I don’t believe in God, fate disposes or, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglae – Robbie Burns, the common man’s philosopher. Did he also say ‘If at first you don’t succeed try try again? Nobody seems to know who was the first to say that or something similar but if you took it to heart you could end up either exhausted or bankrupt in more senses than one. Then in the words of a popular song, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” It’s comforting I suppose when ruminating on one’s failures in life rather than blaming oneself, to be able to place blame fairly and squarely elsewhere. Born in the wrong place at the wrong time, being of the wrong colour, the wrong religion, the wrong sex, having the wrong appearance, the wrong physical make-up, genes, an unhappy childhood, bad parenting, no parenting, the people one has loved in vain, the people who have loved you, the people who haven’t loved you, disliked you, maybe even hated you, lack of opportunity, opportunities missed, it’s all in the stars and, of course, ultimately God, the lap of the Gods if you’re religious, or fate. if you are not.
There are a number of reasons why a play fails, should it ever get as far as to be produced in the first place, and nobody has ever discovered the magic formula for achieving this miracle. It could of course be a not very good play in the first place but otherwise it’s the fault of the producer who didn’t foresee a sea of troubles that could have been avoided, it’s the wrong director (too often he believes he is a better playwright than the playwright, his ego won’t permit otherwise, this also applies to certain actors.) It’s the wrong time, the wrong cast, the wrong venue; it’s the weather, and the critics. Take Joe Orton’s “Loot” for example. Directed by Peter Wood it opened in Cambridge in 1964 with Geraldine McEwan. Kenneth Williams, Duncan Macrae and Ian McShane and the play was a complete flop due to problems with repeated script rewrites, uneven direction, wrong set design, miscasting and bad reviews. It was successfully revived the following year at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre with a different cast and directed by Charles Marowitz. It then transferred to the Criterion, opened on Broadway, A huge award-wining hit it has since played theatres all over the world and filmed in 1970. As well as delighting audiences the actors love it as I know from personal experience having been cast as Inspector Truscott in a production at Derby.
I can personally come up with three examples of bad timing: before its time ‘The River of Sand,’ set in South Africa, sent to Granada TV. The reply? ‘Who’s interested in South Africa?’ Later came Sharpeville and suddenly the whole world was interested in South Africa. Of course it couldn’t be produced in South Africa because of apartheid and its mixed cast. ‘The 88’ produced at The Old Vic opening just a few days after the murder of Louis Mountbatten and the critics had a ball, admitting they were incensed that the play, being an Irish subject, should have gone on though the play had absolutely nothing to do with the IRA. The first play I had produced at Ipswich ‘Oh Brother’ has a black man as its lead. It got favourable reviews but a well-known London impresario came up to me after a performance , said what a jolly good play it was, but who was interested in seeing a black actor playing the lead in a West End theatre? Some years later the RSC even had a black actor playing an English king. Actually there was a fourth piece of mistiming, ‘Between two Sighs,’ but I have already written about that one.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves? So what about the stars?  Many years ago when I was much younger I religiously bought “Prediction” magazine every month in the hope that my stars would tell me of some immediate or close by good fortune just waiting for the right alignment. Was it Gypsy Petrolengo who was the resident astrologer? I forget. Like I say it was a long time ago. Every Friday now we get The Daily Mail as it contains film, theatre, and book reviews and every Friday I turn simply from habit to Jonathan Cainer to read his prediction for the week ahead. Is he any better than Gypsy Petrolengo or Mystic Meg? Well he is certainly more literate, fanciful and more interesting in a chatty sort of way with none of the Uranus is retrograde, Venus in the ascendant stuff but actually he doesn’t tell you much. Yes great things are going to happen but each week follows each week with little if any change. The change is usually announced in a footnote, a footnote I might say that is exactly the same for every star sign. “I looked into your future and recorded a very special forecast. It will touch your heart and lift your spirits.” Needless to say it will cost you a phone call to find out what it is.
So having long since stopped believing in the efficacy of prayer or in a supreme divinity it worries me not what the stars might foretell. There might be more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy but che sera sera, I am happy just to be who I am. It has on the whole been a good life for which I am extremely grateful and who knows? The stars might produce the goods yet.

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