Dear Friends-- and valued readers of this stuff,
I have these five easy pieces of narrative drawn from a Fulbright year in London back in the 50s. I’ve dined out on them time and again and now fear that, if I don’t get them out of here soon, they will rot my hard-drive.
I hope they are faintly amusing and with just a bit of the troubles of the world in them. They are all about theatre, its comings and goings, for the innocent abroad that I was back then. And I swear they are true-- or as true as I can make them. They tend to bang me up against my betters, against whom I stumbled somewhat. So you might relish the schadenfreude they offer. I give you leave.
In any case, I must get them out of here and up into the Cloud where everything is fair game.
I shall post them, every other week, well into the new spring and intersperse them with heaven (the Cloud) knows what.
Read them if you want; enjoy them if you can. My hard drive will be relieved just to see them gone. gordon
New Years Eve in Bristol
They sent me down to Bristol at New Years to case the Bristol Old Vic and the drama as it was taught at the University.** Bristol being about the only university in the land at that time that treated the drama and theatre as legitimate academic studies.
Alone and lonely, I bought a ticket to the Christmas pantomime at the Theatre Royal, a rare treat in itself to anyone interested at all in theatre architecture, its history, and its uses.
It was a late New Years Eve afternoon performance, with a tall, handsome, blond, young actor on the rise as the Dame-- the traditional leading role always performed in drag. He was so funny that I wept and fought off the pain across my kidneys that such extremes of laughter commonly evoke. One wishes the comedian would quit; it hurts so bad.
The Dame was Peter O’Toole.
He had studied at the Bristol Vic and was its rising star, having made his indelible mark in an Important production of Waiting for Godot. Now here he was working in the “panto”. And I was in the house!
Curtain down, darkness falling over Bristol, and my aloneness returning, I took myself off down the hill to a famous pub-bar owned and operated by the Harvey company, world famous for the sherries they import. Here one could see his sherry drawn from the wooden cask in which it had sailed from Spain’s Jerez to this, the home-port of all Harvey sherries.
I bellied up to bar, almost alone, and ordered an amontillado and was moodily thinking of that crazy, wonderful Dame I had just seen, what it takes to be a performer like that, when this guy walks in and sits up to the bar close by me.
It was Peter O’Toole.
There seemed no way to avoid conversation. O’Toole was charming in a way I had never known before. He was irresistible; he was beautiful, and warmly urbane. When it soon came clear that I was from America, and Wyoming at that, he was suddenly interested in me in that way that young people on the way up in their lives are suddenly interested in anything and anybody who might do them some good. In the most voluble way, he declared his every intention of visiting me in Wyoming. Wyoming, he professed to know of it and with some sort of romantic association.
We parted the Harvey’s bar thinking ourselves the best of new friends. I was awash in his charisma.
Somehow I had got up an invitation to a big New Years Eve party, a huge thing. Everybody who was anybody in the Bristol arts was to be there. Uneasy about the whole thing, I got there fashionably late and was, almost at once, unfashionably depressed and lonely-- again. Until who should walk up but Peter O’Toole. He worked his magic, and I was rescued.
When midnight came and we sang the old song, Peter said we should go walk the rim of the Bristol Gorge, that famed gash in the earth through which Shakespeare’s Avon comes to the sea. Of course, I wanted to go. And off we went, out into the night, to a wildly dramatic midnight landscape-- with some tag-along guy whom I didn’t know and faintly resented.
Then, mark this! There was also a tall, very tall, slender, stunningly beautiful, Indian woman in a gorgeous white sari. She said not a single word, came not within ten feet of us; but, there she was, stepping in and out of the mists of the night, like a spectre in a Gothic romance, tracking us on our way to who knows where. To our doom? It was like being in a Keats poem.
Maybe half a mile, treading softly and not above a whisper, I chanced to look around when poof! She disappeared. Gone! Vanished! Only a dark disturbance in our even darker consciousness? An Apparition? Was she real?
Then that other guy of no interest, slogged off somewhere along the way, and I was glad. Peter and I carried on to a spot where a walkway offered access down to the city. Here, as though we had never met, he excused himself, quite formally, and abruptly left.
Once again, I was on my own-- and lonely, if not desolate. Today I am unable to recall the least detail of what happened next-- how I got back to town to my dumpy bed-breakfast with its cold, lumpy bed. But I must have… somehow.
By the way: I found and saw the very first performance of the very first play from the hand of Harold Pinter. The Room. At Bristol University, on that visit of December 30, 1957. It was over-powering in its complexity and strange beauty.