Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation

I haven't posted for nearly a month for a variety of domestic (renovations; son home from university for reading week), personal (bad cold and the resulting ennui) and work (three trips to Ottawa, one to Montreal) reasons. (No evidence of wailing and gnashing of teeth at my absence I have to say.) The time hasn't been without its pleasures . . . a fine production of Gotterdammerung by the Canadian Opera Company that finally made sense of Wagner for me; a spare, turtle-paced production of Thorton Wilder's Our Town; and wild boar at a restaurant called Perigee based on the Japanese dining concept Omakase (meaning trust me)..

The reason I am back is contained in the somewhat cryptic title to this post. About 10-12 years ago I wrote an essay (never published) on a British theatre critic and professor named Ronald Bryden with whom I had studied in the late 70s. Sadly I learned not too long ago that he had died at the age of 76, and I am not sure now whether he knew I had written this piece. Since my appreciation of Professor Bryden never saw the light of day, and this blog affords a good opportunity for personal reflection, I am going to post the essay here over the next few weeks. Perhaps some graduate student will crib from it for a more detailed study of Professor Bryden. Here goes . . . :

In 1978, shortly after completing an M.A. from the graduate program in drama at the University of Toronto's Graduate Drama Centre, I went to live in Europe for a year to begin what I had hoped would be a career in arts journalism. The career aspirations came to nothing (that's another story about the parochial interests of Canadian newspaper and magazine editors when it comes to theatre criticism). But it was an important year, and in at least two ways means I am especially qualified to take a look at the art and influence of Ronald Bryden, literary editor (1961-1963) of The Spectator, theatre critic for The Observer between 1966 and 1971, subsequently play reader for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and for many years director of the Graduate Drama Centre.

First, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of British playwrights -- Edward Bond, Howard Brenton, Snoo Wilson and David Edgar among them -- and such directors as Stuart Burge, then managing the fortunes of the Royal Court theatre, and Peter Brook who had known Bryden professionally. By the time I spoke with them, the memory of his criticism had been supplanted to some extent by opinions about his recent tenure as dramaturge of Britain's premier theatre company. In all their comments there was evident an interesting mix of fondness and respect, even for some as disdainful of theatre critics and journalists as Edward Bond and David Edgar (a recent play of his had been rejected by Bryden as unsuitable for the RSC).

I also remember well a conversation with Michael Coveney who had been editor of Plays and Players magazine and at the time was theatre critic for The Financial Times of London. Without prompting, Coveney spoke at length about Bryden's significance to British theatre and drama, a significance that in Coveney's view went well beyond what one would expect from such a relatively short stay at the drama critic's desk. Bryden's respect for the efforts of new dramatists, said Coveney, "was sorely missed."

(Essay to be continued . . . )

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (2)

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