This book is a lot of fun to read. Ms. Rigg has brought together a wide variety of reviews from actors, actresses, playwrights, and directors familiar to most of us, and respected by us, that were written more to show off the writers’ wit than to give a fair critique of what had “turned” on the stage. Where she had little response or wanted to add more evidence, she has done research and added pieces that trashed plays that are still classics centuries later.
Beginning with what she terms a “slender account of the early theatre and some of its enemies” in order to put today’s theatre in context, Ms. Rigg illustrates how sometimes critics have decried productions because they cared about theatre, and how some have even defended a new playwright or actor: “for instance, Bernard Shaw and William Archer proclaiming the genius of Ibsen in the face of widespread opposition”.
Rigg has organized the reviews in a number of categories. First, actors and actresses born in Great Britain, then, a section of reviews that have an obvious “critic’s device” where they simply recap the plot without comment, the object being to “let the thing hang itself”. When reviews were not forthcoming (such as from America where most actresses and actors deign not to dwell on or repeat negative reviews, Katharine Hepburn being one of the exceptions) Rigg has done research and come up with pieces that fit the bill, going as far back even as Walt Whitman who sometimes wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle, 1846.
One of my favourites, so far, is that of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, St. James’s, February 1895 by an unnamed writer in Truth:
Whether we should have heard as much as we have about it, had anybody else written it, is doubtful; but that only shows the importance of being — Oscar . . . There is no attempt at characterisation, but all the dramatis personae, from the heroes down to the butlers, talk pure and undiluted Wildese.
There are also critiques of musicals, reviews, variety shows and their stars, classic roles (such as Hamlet in 1698 and again in 1811), directors, production sets, and theatres. Her collection of reviews is meant to “give readers a laugh and, at the same time, a pause for thought”. And so, it does. The reviews are very funny in context of what we ourselves know to be true of these now famous people and productions, and the original cartoons/ caricatures Rigg has added lend further support to her premise that no ‘turn’ upon the stage goes ‘unstoned’. This is an easy book to pick up and read through any particular part, then come back later and read another. It is full of gems of wit and hilarity whether you are familiar with the actor, play, or what have you, or not. Lots of fun. * * * *