Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (4)

(Part four of an essay on Ronald Bryden, the first two parts of which were published in the past two weeks. Please track back to find the introduction and parts one to three)

In retrospect, the richness of British drama and theatrical arts in 1966, when Bryden began to review for The Observer, makes stange the preoccupation at the time of discovering some form of "New Wave". Bryden identifies the concern in November 1966 in comments on two plays -- Henry Livings' Little Mrs. Foster Show and Charles Wood's Fill the Stage with Happy Hours.

After first making merry of the trainloads of critics and impresarios who disembark in Liverpool and Nottingham to sniff out these offerings of the "new Wave", he does try to find in the plays hints that they bring something new to the theatre. His final judgement -- a little tentatively or hesitantly drawn it's worth noting -- gave them credit for having brought to the theatre new flavours, but did not venture so far as to herald the birth of a new genre.

Preoccupation with unearthing trends is a hazard of criticism anywhere, but seems to have been an unavoidable problem of living in Britain in the 1960s. It often led to novelty chasing on the part of directors, actors, playwrights and sometimes critics. This was just as true, of course, elsewhere. Many of Bryden's contemporaries, including venerable American critic Walter Kerr (God on the Gymnasium Floor), succumber to feverish first nights of avant garde events, constantly trying to discover in them something which could be called new or truly different.

For Bryden, however, gimmickry and novelty for their own sake ranked as sins next to writing to audience prejudices, manipulative ideologues and dullness. Difference -- whether by nudity, role changing, shock or extravagance -- had to be informed by purpose: "Clifford Williams' production (ed. an all male As You Like It) is interesting, sometimes astonishingly lovely to look at. But it proves nothing -- it's hard to see what it could hope to -- about Shakespeare or his play."

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Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (3)