THE GREAT LOVER: The Life and Art of Herbert Beerbohm Tree by Madeleine Bingham

THE GREAT LOVER: The Life and Art of Herbert Beerbohm Tree

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Herbert Beerbohm Tree, half brother of the effervescent Max, was England's leading actor and theater-manager from the turn of the century until the great War. And, not unlike his sovereign, he lived a flamboyant life--a constant philanderer, Tree fathered six children by ""Mrs. Reed,"" his mistress of many years, in addition to those born to his wife, the actress Maud Tree. All of this Bingham fussily bares. Tree's historical interest lies, however, in his influence on the English theater. As Bingham notes, his genius for stage ""business"" helped form modern acting, with its avoidance of declamation and turn toward psychological characterization. And his revivals of Shakespeare at Her Majesty's Theatre, which he owned and managed, created a new audience for Shakespearean drama. Along the way, he produced and performed in the premieres of many notable modern English plays, including Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance and Shaw's Pygmalion, and emerged a Wilde loyalist and a competitor of Shaw. Tree's theatrical prominence eventually earned him a knighthood and took him to Hollywood for a successful filming of Macbeth not long before his 1917 death. Bingham, the author of several theatrical biographies, tells this story in prosaic detail and wide-eyed wonder, but with little of Hesketh Pearson's liveliness (Beerbohm Tree, 1956; repr. 1971) or much sense of the cultural context. The result is a lightweight narrative which adds only particulars of the rake's progress to the already-public record.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1979
Publisher: Atheneum