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LETTERS by Kenneth Tynan

LETTERS

By Kenneth Tynan

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-42610-8
Publisher: Random House

A lively collection of the iconoclastic English theater man’s correspondence. “Critic” is too confining a word for the wide-ranging abilities of Kenneth Tynan (1927—80), although from 1951 to 1963 he wrote unfailingly stimulating theater reviews for several London periodicals and for the New Yorker magazine. In 1963 he joined England’s newly formed National Theatre as literary manager, shaping over the next decade (with artistic director Laurence Olivier) a varied program of classics and contemporary plays, some of a politically or sexually provocative nature that prompted confrontations with the British censors and the National Theatre’s board. Tynan continued as a journalist during and after those years, primarily writing profiles of performers; he also devised the erotic revue Oh! Calcutta! His letters chronicle all this activity with the same verve, wit, and gift for invective that distinguish his criticism. His widow, Kathleen Tynan, selected the material and provided the notes and expository paragraphs before her death in 1995. This background is helpful, if sometimes unduly comprehensive. Also, too much of the text (one-fourth) is devoted to Tynan’s correspondence as a teenager and Oxford undergraduate, in which he displays an unattractive arrogance and flippancy (“I would rather write amusingly and inaccurately than correctly and tediously”) that moderated as he matured. His easy manner occasionally gave the impression that Tynan was a lightweight, a notion effectively countered here by thoughtful, detailed critiques of productions he worked on and by letters voicing his strongly left-wing political and social convictions. Once past the youthful posturing, the correspondence builds by accretion of detail an appealing portrait of a warm, intelligent man passionately engaged in the arts of his time. Consistently absorbing and entertaining, though it would have benefitted from more judicious editing. (photos, not seen)