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Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (7)

(Part seven of an essay on Ronald Bryden. Please track back to March 5th to find the beginning.)

What he looked for was the felicity or wholeness of interpretation by the director and occasionally the actors. What he wanted from a production, whether it was at the Royal Shakespere Company, the National Theatre or small provincial theatres was what he found lacking in Karolos Koun's production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford-Upon-Avon:

"He offers a fascinating and perfectly valid version of the tragedy -- in some ways, perhaps, a loftier one than the extravagantly admired Zeffirelli production of 10 years ago. But it never seems more than a version: there's no sense of a dramatic event so charged with its own life that it might be turned about and regarded from another aspect. It's a memorable Romeo and Juliet; it never persuades you that it's the play itself." (September 24, 1967)

Even when reviewing a performance of Sir Laurence Olivier as Shylock -- surely one of the standards against which all other past and future Shylocks are and will be measured -- it is director Jonathan Miller's achievement which stands out to the critic. Miller unlocked something in the play that had not been seen before:

"The main, astounding achievement of the new Merchant of Venice at the National is to make horrifyingly credible, surely for the first time in a century or more, the gruesome old bargain at the heart of the play. It virtually rewrites the original to do so. Out goes much of the comedy, out Belomont's fairy-tale romance. Instead, there's the assumption that the central, unavoidable experience of the play is the explosion of frank, murdering tribal hatred at the core of it: that the task of any revival is not to skirt round this, but create afresh a believable world from which it can spring." (May 3, 1970)

With productions of Shakespeare as with reviews of the avant garde, Bryden was never the novelty chaser, even though his tolerance sometimes seemed extravagantly forgiving of new works. His judgements of some such as Canadian Stuart Gilman or of John Bowen's After the Rain anticipated a better future for them than materialized. The fact the "brilliant theatricality" of Bowen's After the Rain was never repeated (as far as I am aware anyway) reflects less misplaced judgement on Bryden's part, perhaps, than the lack of persistence or commitment of the writers themselves in pursuing the strengths in their own craft.

Neither did he succumb to popular fashion. Bryden preferred Peter Terson's Mooney and His Caravans to Hair (again defending the primacy of language or ideas over physicality -- May 19, 1968) and John Osborne's less well-known play Time Present to other of his works calling it, "Osborne's most mature, least self-indulgent play". (May 26, 1968) And in the same review he attacked mercilessly the popular Unknown Soldier and his Wife by Peter Ustinov.

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (8)

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (6)