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Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (2)

(Part two of an essay first posted yesterday, and to continue throughout the month.)

The second (way in which I am qualified to write about Ronald Bryden - ed.) is more personal, yet no less germane. Although I had completed an individual directed reading course in post-war British theatre and a seminar in the craft of theatre criticism with Professor Bryden, I can't say we had a personal relationshp. I could never bring myself to call him 'Ron' -- 'Professor Bryden' seemed to have just the right amount of deference and formality.

Nevertheless, while in Europe I wrote letters to a number of 'friends', only one of whom ever responded . . . one friend that is, and Professor Bryden. Bryden's letter I recall not only urged me to enjoy a "dejeuner sur l'herbe" in Paris where I was living, but offered assistance in making the kind of contacts that might see my articles published. It was an encouraging and unselfish act that, I think, evidenced a respect for youthful energy and a tolerance of excess.

That tolerance and acceptance of the self-confident but shaky quest of a young person who loved drama is important to understanding Bryden's place in British theatre. For a critic who was so learned and so comfortable with the canon of English-language and European literature -- in a way completely foreign at the time to Canadian drama criticism -- Bryden was immensely catholic in his sympathies to ideas, to forms of presentation, to legitimate exploration of ideas, to excess caused by a surfeit of passion.

British theatre at the time (1960s) was well served by Bryden's catholicity and exuberance for ideas, and at the same time demanded it of its observers. The theatre was experiencing one of those periodic explosions of immense talent that seems to correspond to the decline of social and political infrastructure. In Britain, the body politic was recognizing -- a little belatedly perhaps -- that the nation had become something of a bit player in the new world order.

But in the theatre, almost as a counterbalance to the defeated national psyche, British actors, directors and writers had assumed centre stage again . . . at least among English-language countries and, according to Le Nouvel Observateur critic Guy Dumur (in a personal interview with me in 1978), among many non-English language countries as well. In the same week that Bryden recognized the genius of Tom Stoppard, he was reviewing a brilliant Royal Shakespeare Company production of Coriolanus directed by John Barton and starring Ian Richardson, as well as Joan Littlewood's famour production of MacBird.

He could just as easily have been admiring Harold Pinter performing one of his own works, or Sir Laurence Olivier with his grand Shylock, or Maggie Smith (Bryden - "One of the theatre's great queens of comdey) in Farquahar's The Beaux Strategem. He could be so engaged by the exploration of the concept of supposed British national virtues in Charles Wood's H that he might be forgiven had he missed the powerful imagery in Edward Bond's Narrow Road to the Deep North. But he didn't.

(To be continued . . . )

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (3)

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation