A vintage theatrical diversion for you today… Sorting through a pile of assorted clippings, programmes etc of my late mum’s I found this theatre programme … and my first thought was ‘What a cast!’ You can see for yourself …
The Way of the World is one of the very best Restoration comedies, first performed in 1700. The action is centred around two lovers, Mirabell and Millamant, who need the permission of Lady Wishfort to marry to get a full dowry. Lady Wishfort, however, would prefer her nephew Sir Wilfull to marry Mirabell.
Gielgud not only starred in and directed this production, but assembled an all-star cast: Eric Porter, Paul Schofield, Peter Sallis (Cracking cheese, Gromit), two young female stars in Pamela Brown and Eileen Herlie, Margaret Rutherford, and at the bottom – Catweazle himself Geoffrey Bayldon.
I was able to find a review of this production from The Spectator archive of theatre reviews from Feb 27th, 1953, selected quotes follow:
THE more faultless a play, perhaps, the more difficult a job there is for the producer. The Way of the World is a very nearly perfect comedy; against the original felicities of Congreve John Gielgud’s presentation—the latest period-piece at the Hammersmith Lyric, a kind of salty hors d’oeuvre before the tremendous meal of Otway- shows flaws which have caused it to be roughly handled. But, if these cannot be ignored, they are far less important than the style, judgement, and elegance of the whole; …
There are, certainly, some odd quirks of casting. Pamela Brown is a very queer Millamant, whom the effort of outrageous affectation seems to leave perpetually out of breath. … Margaret Rutherford, rolling and heaving her way, like the White Queen feeling an improbable access of desire, through the predicaments of Lady Wishfort, is even further from her ordinary territory, but she conquers the ground for herself. She is stupendously out of place and time, but she is stupendous; it does not really matter how Lady Wishfort is funny so long as she is as funny as that.
Beside this rollicking performance Mr. Gielgud’s Mirabell is hardly noticeable, retiring with admirable stage-manners to his proper place. This remains, however, the unobtrusive centre of the comedy, and Mr. Gielgud does not forget it ; around his debonair, cultivated, and elegant figure—such legs must have been the envy of all the beaux in St. James’s—the entire heartless, good-humoured, polite machinery revolves. … the most polished talk in the world spoken for the most part with spirit and intelligence—it would be possible to ask more, but it might be thought, rather greedy.’ C. S.
I love the critic’s description of Margaret Rutherford – stupendous!
Caryl Brahms, writing for Plays and Players magazine in 1953, was also not a fan of Pamela Brown, describing her voice as “part turtle-dove’s roo-coo, part nutmeg grater” and bemoans the fact that “Miss Brown seems only to have up her sleeve Miss Brown – her ace of aces. But what a self Miss Brown has! … The Gods forfend that we should have Miss Brown act a character instead of her fascinating self…”
I’m overjoyed that I’ve been able to refer to “Plays and Players”: 1953-68 v. 1: Thirty Years of British Theatre (link to Amazon UK) to provide the photo and more information. I picked this volume up at a book sale, and it has sat there on the shelf for ages. I have few of my mum’s theatre programmes left now, but I do have a diary of all the plays, ballets and operas she went to see from 1950 onwards – this could inspire more posts!