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Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (11)

(Start at March 5th for the full essay . . . Not too much more to go.)

Set designers especially were orphaned in Bryden's reviews. If the elements of set design were not apparently a significant contributor to the experience of the performance, then they were largely ignored. A review of Iris Murdoch's The Servants and the Snow (October 4, 1970) is typical of how little attention Bryden usually paid to the set, even when it may have had a central place in the creation of a mood or interpretation which he was praising. Only rarely did he comment on why the setting or costumes were able to support the play. Nor did he take apart how the effect was achieved:

"Roger Butlin's designs, icy white vinyl, mirrors and furs, have all the magic you could wish, but within them the cast are left struggling with virtually unspeakable lines, wavering uneasily between costume-drama stilted and mythical-portentous."

Occasionally, his intense focus on experiential 'soul' simply went too far. A review of David Storey's In Celebration mentioned earlier says virtually nothing about the production . . . except that Lindsay Anderson directed it. No actors are mentioned, nothing about the staging is highlighted. The evening in Bryden's experience of it was purely one of history and ideas; that is, a matter of dramaturgy.

This inattention to the constituent parts of a production initially included acting, although as Bryden's tenure extended, he became more sensitive to the power of performance. After a year in his post at The Observer Bryden evidenced greater confidence in dissecting the actor's craft. His starting point, as should be for any critic, was recognizing the simple fact of the preeminence of technique to good performance:

"Technique as absolute as hers (Elisabeth Bergner) is so rare nowadays that it's worth recalling what the word means. Technique is the sum of the ways in which an actor holds attention, establishes command over an audience. As a hypnotist does, it combines charm and bullying; the sure precision of speech and movement which define superiority with volatility so swift that ear and eye follow it, riveted, afraid of missing some sudden shift. Its summa, I suppose, is Shakespeare's Cleopatra: with no way of showing her sexual hold on Antony, he wrote for his boy-player a dazzling compendium of theatrical tricks, a part of which consists of technique and nothing else." (December 10, 1967)

His reviews then began to look more frequently at the play or production from the point of view of what it revealed about, or offered to, the actor. He also began to track specific careers and assess the value of particular roles for actors of real worth . . . Irene Worth and Tom Courtenay (Romeo and Juliet, Decembr 31, 1967) among them. By the time Paul Scofield's Macbeth is transferred to the Aldwych Theatre in January, 1968, the entire review becomes an assessment of the "noble half-failure" of Scofield's interpretation . . .

"To play Macbeth, an actor must comprehend not only evil but also its enjoyment. Scofield confronts it with brave, distressed understanding, but never for a moment grasps or offers its pleasures." (Januar 7, 1968)

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (12)

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