REVIEW: Esso World Theatre – The Way of the World

  • Broadcast: January 13th, 1964

Character: Mirabelle/himself

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⇐  PETER with Anna Massey and, (background), Sir Ralph Richardson

The Esso World Theatre was a showcase of what was considered to be the best of British theatre, which was premiered on WOR-TV (Channel 9) in the United States on Tuesday, January 13th, 1959.

The Standard Oil Company (Esso) – much the most artistically adventurous of all the sponsors, were given the opportunity to offer some of London’s top players a chance to illustrate what was colourfully described by the Washington Post as: “The Puritan and Cavalier’ threads running through British culture.”

With Sir Ralph Richardson acting as a guide through the ages, and a company consisting on none other than PETER WYNGARDE, Anna Massey, Angela Baddeley, and Paul Rogers, the excursion through the pages of British literature proved, it seemed, to be an “unreserved joy”, as the New York Times described it; “A feast for the viewer hungering for exiting words spoken with the precision and eloquence that are the traditions of the British stage.”

ITC fans will doubtless be familiar with director Cyril Frankel, who was personally chosen by Producer, Bert Lawrence, to take charge of the project, and in doing so, succeeded in avoiding even the slightest trace of hackneyed staging, and displaying an enthralling diversity of visual concepts which ranged from readings on a park bench, to comedy in an empty room, to an off-screen rendition of Shakespeare – illustrated by a camera scanning the interior walls of Westminster Abbey.

In order to present a suitable opening, Angela Baddeley kicked-off the proceedings by reading an in presentation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath Tale’, which was filmed in a field of wild horses. ‘Paradise Lost’ brought together Sir Ralph Richardson and Anna Massey, followed by excerpts from Robert Herrick, John Bunyon and John Dunne.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly a scene from ‘The Way of the World’, which was performed by PETER in the role or Mirabelle, with Anna Massey as Millamant.

Bringing the hour to a close was a contemporary example of the theme of ‘Puritan versus the Cavalier ‘. From a bench in London’s Hyde Park, PETER WYNGARDE and Paul Rodgers recited an extract from ‘One Warm Sunday’, taken from ‘Portrait Of And Artist As a Young Dog’, by Dylan Thomas.

‘Esso World Theater’ Seen in Premiere

 

Theatre as rich and sat­isfying as the television medium has known for some time came last night in the premiere of the “Esso World Theater” on WOR‐TV (Chan­nel 9). The Standard Oil Com­pany (N. J.), much the most artistically adventurous of all sponsors, had the happy no­tion of offering some of Lon­don’s top players to illustrate the Puritan and Cavalier threads running through the British culture.

With Sir Ralph Richardson serving as a guide down through the ages, and a.com­pany consisting of Anna Mas­sey, Angela Baddeley, Paul Rogers and PETER WYNGARDE, the excursion through the pages of English literature was an unreserved joy, a feast for the viewer hunger­ing for exciting words spoken with Pe precision and elo­quence that are in the tradi­tion of the British stage.

Moreover, Bert Lawrence, the producer, and Cyril Frank­el, the director, avoided the slightest trace of hackneyed staging and displayed an en­thralling diversity of visual concept that ranged from a reading on a park bench to comedy in a drawing room to an off‐the‐screen rendition illustrated by a camera slow­ly scanning the interior of Westminster Abbey.

To have a suitable restful start, the proceedings opened with Miss Baddeley’s inter­pretation of an excerpt from Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The edited exposition of the joys of present pleasure. was staged in an open field, where restless horses in the background, plus an uneven­ness in the sound tract, were a shade distracting. But Miss Baddeley was beguilingly earthy in her countdown of husbands

The seduction of Eve in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” brought together Sir Ralph as the serpent and Miss Mas­sey as Eve. For electric play­ing in the starkest of settings the confrontation was magnificent. And for Miss Massey it marked the beginning of what was to prove a personal triumph of the first magnitude.

To carry forward the con­flict between the sacred and the profane there were excerpts from Robert Herrick and John Bunyan and John Donne.

But a particular nighlight was the scene from William Congreve’s “The Way of the World,” with Miss Massey as Millamant and Mr.WYNGARDE as Mirabell. The hilarious sub­tlety of the humor and the high style of the occasion were perfectly realized in the superb playing achieved under the inspired guidance of Mr. Frankel. Miss Massey was completely captivating in the brilliance of her characteriza­tion of knowledgeable femi­ninity.

Moments later Miss Massey was seen as the down‐to‐earth Elizabeth coping with a fussy conceit of Mr. Collins’s in “Pride and Prejudice.” The portrayal of the minister by Mr. Rogers was nothing short of a gem in his delightful

Bringing the hour to a close was a contemporary example of the theme of “Puritan ver­sus Cavalier.” On a park bench Mr. Rogers and Mr. WYNGARDE recited an extract from “One Warm Saturday,” taken from “Portait of the Artist as a Young Dog,” by Dylan Thomas. And then Sir Ralph was seen walking from the Poet’s Corner toward the main altar of Westminster Abbey, while his voice was heard reciting an excerpt from. “The Rock,” by T. S. Eliot: The juxtaposition was striking.

Future monthly install­ments of “Esso World The­ater” will explore the cultures of many other countries. On last night’s evidence the pro­ject is in excellent hands, which promises to make a prime contribution to civilized television.

CRITICS COMMENTS…

 “The hilarious subtlety of the humour and the high style of the occasion were perfectly realised in the superb playing achieved under the inspired guidance of Cyril Frankel. Mr PETER WYNGARDE was completely captivating in the brilliance of his characterisation.” The New York Times – January 14th, 1964.

 

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The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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