THEATRE IN BRITAIN: A Personal View by Harold Hobson
Kirkus Star

THEATRE IN BRITAIN: A Personal View

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Sir Harold, a leading London critic since the 1930s and an/1984 influential supporter of the British theater's 1950s revolution, offers a genuinely personal--and remarkably wide-ranging--survey of theater in Britain since 1920; and, though Hobson sets out ""to show that all theatre is politically and socially relevant,"" this is a vigorously un-starchy appreciation--with as much attention paid to glamour and nostalgia as to themes and theories. The first decade--""The Gentlemen Fail (19201930)""--centers on Hobson's home-town of Sheffield, where he saw the fading days of aristocratic diversions, a prophetic (forgotten) social-drama called The Right to Strike, and the first Noel Coward plays. (But only years later would he realize that Coward was ""revolutionary""--helping, along with Galsworthy and Maugham, to undermine the well-born and well-to-do.) The Thirties include reflections of the Depression, Paul Robeson in O'Neill's All God's Chillun, ""the heartbreak of the young Olivier"" (cannily compared to Cardinal Newman), a flash-forward to Anthony Blunt, and a glorious evocation of Ralph Richardson in Priestley's Johnson over Jordan. Hobson refuses to dismiss the sentiment and escapism of Britain's WW II theater, juxtaposing it with the intellectual vacuum created by (among other things) the emigration of Auden and Isherwood: ""What we did not get from Auden, we got from Judy Campbell""--singing ""A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"" and generating ""a state of exaltation that I could express only in prose that bordered on hysteria."" The postwar period features Ivor Novello and visitor Danny Kaye (""He possessed a repose so unchallengeable that he could scatter it to the winds"")--as well as the hints of feminist fury in The Heiress and the unsung Shakespearean originality of actor/director Anthony Quayle. And though Hobson still hails the Osborne/Pinter (Brecht/Beckett) ""proletarianization"" of British theater, he laments the destruction of high comedy, the loss of beauty, the extremist attacks on ""establishment"" playwrights--while offering acute, balanced comments on such post-1960 playwrights as Howard Brenton, David Storey, and Arnold Wesker (""unique amongst radical political writers in that he loved the oppressed more than he hated the oppressors""). With equal attention to the famous and the forgotten, the trenchant and the evanescent, the achievements and the current ""desolation"": essential reading for serious theater-readers--enhanced by photo-illustrations that follow Hobson's far-from-predictable trains of thought.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1984
Publisher: Salem--dist. by Merrimack (47 Pelham Rd., Salem, NH 03079)