Between February and June, 1959, PETER did a highly successful season at the world famous Old Vic theatre in Bristol, where he both performed and directed.
The three plays that he was involved with were ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, and ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’.
TAMING OF THE SHREW
- The Theatre Royal, Bristol. 24th February to 14th March, 1959
PART I. Padua: In the streets and in the garden of Baptista’s house.
PART II: Petruchio’s house in the mountains and the streets of Padua.
PART III: On the road to Pardua. A street in Pardua. The garden of Lucentio’s house.
‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is one of William Shakespeare’s early plays, which was written around the same time as ‘Richard III’, ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and ‘The Comedy of Errors’, whilst he was still in his 20’s.
The playwright unashamedly borrowed a lot the entire plot from other writers; his contribution being mainly vitality of language and a humanity and reality that pervades this version of the story.
The scene is the rumbustious Elizabethan’s idea of Italy, so that we have a mixture of Italian names and manners with English ones – whichever suits the moment.
It’s not a polished comedy. Indeed, some critics have said that it often feels as if Shakespeare never stopped to think whilst writing it, but that it came blubbering out of his mind almost too quickly to write down. As a result there are inconsistencies and flaws in construction, but audiences have still been swept along by the pace of the writing and the wonderful situations of a good story.
At the end, some might like to see Kate “tamed” by Petruchio, while others might think she has found an easier method to get her way, and a surer one.
Someone once wrote that this play is like a red rag to feminists. It is, in fact, a play where there’s no compromising!
The point is that the audience must see the complete surrender of Katarina – at least as a wife. The aggravated stance of the Latin has to disappear, and the vinegar tongue cut out. And while Joan Heal seemed to slip just a bit too easily into her role of suppression, she portrayed her “taming” as a most clever piece of contrasting acting.
⇐ PETER as Petruchio with Joan Heal as Katharina
As The Shrew; untamed, she unleashed torrents of words that were, on occasion, on the verge of being unintelligible. When she was enraged, a snarl, a roar, a flick of the head, or swish of her skirts said as much as a verbal retort. Joan Heal certainly seemed to enjoy herself in her outrages, and made the most of her effective sermon on the duties of womankind.
If, like most men, Kate would seem like a decidedly bad risk as a wife, then surely many woman would say of Petruchio that he’s not a particularly nice piece of work either. There appears to be altogether too much sadistic enjoyment derived from his wife’s course of discipline!
If there is one small criticism about PETER’s portrayal of Petruchio, it was that he sometimes sacrificed clarity for speed – he took the text in the earlier passages at a tempo that might suggest that he wanted to get rid of it all at once. But then Petruchio has a point to prove, He’d confidently announced his intention of marrying ‘The Shrew’ on the strength of hearsay evidence. The overall effect, however, was that the character he played was a determined ‘Tamer’, and a likeable one at that; a man who would make “Katharina the curst” a good lover as well as a good husband, once he’s calmed her fiery spirit.
Probably the best scene in the play is at the banquet, where Petruchio creates just the right atmosphere of good-humoured command, which acts as a helpful introduction to Kate’s speech – laying down the articles of womanly devotion and duty.
As it was, the two protagonists were very well matched. The sparks flew, the fun grew, and a fabulous time was had by the actors and audience alike.
TAKEN FROM THE BRISTOL EVENING NEWS
‘The Old Vic’s younger brother gave, as younger brothers often do, a lesson in deportment to its elder with this version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, which was wholly delightful, simple, straightforward, lively, quick and clear. For the non-purist, it had been performed in cowboy costume, in Victorian dress, as a masque and even to music. But never had a production given such enjoyment to so many as Frank Dunlop’s perfectly straight production.
Speed is the essential accompaniment of simplicity, and for speed the producer must look to his designer for ingenuity. Patrick Robertson in his long reign as resident designer at Bristol managed to solve innumerable problems more difficult than this one of rapidly alternating pace. It’s unlikely that he ever solved one so neatly as this. Using the ancient 18 Century drum, which had been a permanent fixture at the impressive little theatre, he dropped down the most impressive backcloths, and Mr Dunlop, on a sloping stage, used them not only wisely, but in the end, wittily.
The company itself was an excellent one; light of hand, foot and tongue. Nothing overdone, nothing overstressed, almost every point made, and once made, quickly whisked away. Joan Heal as Katharina gave a sterling, robust performance and a wholly convincing account of the part.
Her wildest fury, however, was no more than a paddy compared with the tornado of PETER WYNGARDE as her tamer who, at one alarming moment sent a table all but hurtling into the stalls! He was, of course, romantic, dashing and in perfect control as Petruchio. He made great play with changes of speed in his voice and these changes were highly effective. He and Miss Heal were beautifully matched, and with such a fine pair centre stage, little could go wrong’.
NOTE: One of the tricks that PETER would do while playing Petruchio, was to swing on a rope from the balcony of the Old Vic, onto the stage… That was until he mistimed his leap during one afternoon performance, and ended up breaking a couple of ribs!
“PETER WYNGARDE on his debut at the Bristol Old Vic, immediately proves himself a commanding actor. He’s a swashbuckling figure, cracking his whip and tongue with equal purpose”. The Evening Post
“Mr. WYNGARDE’s visual presentation of the part is dashingly effective. Lithe and bearded, he approaches the task with a zestful glint in his eyes, and at the moment he informs Katharina that he was born to tame her, he assumes an authority and magnetic quality that would quell a storm”. Western Daily Press.
“PETER WYNGARDE is a flashing-eyed, dashing Petruchio, part psychiatrist and part lion-tamer, and always confident of his ability to control the situation”. The Stage
“PETER WYNGARDE was romantic, dashing and in perfect control as Petruchio. He made a great play with changes of speed in his voice, and these changes were highly effective. He and Patricia Heal as Kate were beautifully matched, and with such a fine pair at centre stage little could go wrong.” Theatre World – February, 1959
TAMING OF THE SHREW ON TV
I dare say that nobody minded the last minute alteration to Granada’s scheduling so that ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ could go out to the whole ITV network on Good Friday -27th March, 1959.
Initially, a one-hour adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy, was due to be screened on Thursday in the TWW , Southern and Scotland regions only. However, Granada decided to cancel the broadcast of ‘To Keep Our Way of Life’ in favour of the Old Vic Production, which was performed at the TWW Pontacca Studio in Cardiff.
‘While most TV comedies are in the doldrums, the taming of the shrew is a flurry of whirlwind action and dialogue almost from start to finish.
Whipped along by a commanding performed by PETER WYNGARDE as the dashing suitor, Petruchio, this Bristol Old Vic production had that feature essential both to Shakespeare and TV – plenty of pace.
Frank Dunlop is the producer whose job it was to adapt the play from its two-hour full version to 60 minutes for the TV screen.
“At first I was rather worried about cutting a play to half its length, but I’ve simplified the sub-plot and all the best scenes are left virtually as they were written”’ The Liverpool Echo
 TWW – Independent television company covering South Wales and the West of England.
⇑ Programmes from each of the three productions that PETER was involved in during the 1959 Season
LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
- The Theatre Royal, Bristol. 17th March to 4th April, 1959.
Produced and Directed by PETER WYNGARDE
Scene 1. 8.30am
Scene 2. Around 12.45
Scene 3. About half an hour later.
Around 6.30 in the evening.
The play is set in the living room of Tyrone’s summer home during one day in August, 1912.
Eugene O’Neill’s play deserves a place among the more notable achievements recorded by the Bristol Old Vic Company at the Theatre Royal.
This autobiographical play, in which the author lays bare old torments with painful frankness, makes considerable demands on the actors charged with expressing the tragedy of the ill-starred James Tyrone (William Hutt), who can’t help destroying themselves.
The play is lengthy, the pace necessarily slow, with its repetitive pattern of emotional outbursts, quarrels and momentary displays of underlying affection, but the attention is held even though the long and difficult third act, by the skill and insight of the director, PETER WYNGARDE.
This is one of those occasions when natural acting gives the audience the feeling that they’re looking through a window at real people, rather than at actors across the footlights.
Dorothy Reynolds (Mary Cavan Tyrone) returned to the Old Vic Company after her spell performing comedy on stage, to remind audiences of her qualities as a serious actress with a moving, thorough performance, which fully expressed the tragedy of the drug addict. Another former Bristol Old Vic actor. Ronald Hines, contributed a realistic study of James Tyrone Jr., her dissolute elder son.
The quartet was completed by two-newcomers: Canadian actor William Hutt, who gave an amazing performance as the authoritarian father, who’s prepared to sacrifice his family to his own fear of the poor house, and John Charlesworth, who contributed a faultless recital as the sensitive but ailing younger son. Susan Lawrence managed to make her mark in a brief appearance as the maid.
Note: The actors were changed for this play as the Old Vic Company were rehearsing for the televised version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
- The Theatre Royal, Bristol. 19th May to 6th June, 1959.
Scene 1: A performance at the Hotel de Bourgogne.
Scene 2: The Bakery of the Poets.
Scene 1: The House of Roxane.
Scene 2: The Siege of Arras.
The Park of a Convent.
The first two acts take place in 1640; the third in 1655.
‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ was first produced in an age when it was not unusual in the large theatres for horses, coaches and even trains to thunder onto the stage.
This production managed to get by with just over 30 players (some playing more than one part). One of those actors was Patrick Stewart (playing ‘Cut-Purse’ and a ‘Cadet’), who is now better known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Xavier in The X Men franchise.
What a challenge then to the Bristol Old Vic Company to do justice to the sweep of Rostand’s ‘Cyrano’ in this anti-romantic age, which specialised in the small cast, the single set, and the small crowd.
At the time that Cyrano de Bergerac was performed at the Bristol Old Vic, it was the most
expensive play ever staged at the theatre, which spoke volumes about the faith the management had in their young leading man, PETER WYNGARDE. It needed to be expensive, since Rostand’s happy mixture of traditional French comic fancy and romantic invention was achieved as much by a rich diversity of small, fine strokes or characterization as by the big, bold theatrical situations.
PETER as Cyrano and Ingrid Hafner as Roxane ⇒
Other than by engaging a great number of actors – 64 in total – there was no way of creating the noisy commotion of the first act, and if this hubbub which carries on from the theatre to the poet’s bakery were skimped of players the importance of the background would be diminished. The poets, cut-purses and literary Bohemians, the quarrel-picking Cardinals guards, and the King’s Musketeers each had some distinctive colour to contribute to the drama that sprang from their mist.
Without them, the audience would understand less easily the nature of the “preciosity” from which the comedy extracts a special kind of nobility and pride and tenderness and nobility. There were no cost-cutting of these scenes, since this revival was regarded as an amiable offering made by the theatre to its patrons in the hope not of immediate profit, but of future goodwill.
Such optimism deserved to succeed, and it did. John Hale’s direction, however, began by setting the actors too careful a pace, but he handled the love scenes resourcefully – winding itself up to a splendid pitch at the Siege of Arras where the hungry Gascons cover themselves in glory and come to a temperate close amongst the autumn leaves.
The character of Cyrano is, more or less, a biographical study of a mid-17th Century wit, philosopher, soldier and swordsman, whose courage and daring are matched only by his capacity for putting into mouths of lovers verse calculated to melt even the most immovable maiden.
If this production muffed some of the comedy’s subtleties at least it managed to bring out its endearing quality. PETER played Cyrano with a sympathetic touch. The rhyming duel on which he defeats his opponent with the concluding line of an improvised ballad was done with the romantic brilliance of a d’Artagnan, and coming to court Roxane on behalf of his inarticulate friend, he made it clear that the self-sacrifice had its sexual as well as its sublime side. He didn’t let the extreme selflessness of his love mar his artist’s pleasure in framing the words that were to imprint his heart, his wit and his sense of beauty on the woman who, but for the misfortune of his nose, might be his own.
Sadly, Ingrid Hafner was less successful with Roxane. She’s most effective in the autumnal garden, quietly making her discovery of the dying Cyrano’s generous and exquisite self-denial.
Special Note: For this production, the apron of the stage had to be extended to afford the actors freedom of movement, and two of the theatre boxes were used during the ‘Play Scene’.
PETER DONS BIG NOSE JUST TO BE DIFFERENT
West End star PETER WYNGARDE last night why he left the bright lights of a £20-a-night season with the Bristol Old Vic.
The 26-year-old actor, who co-starred with Vivien Leigh in ‘Duel of Angels’, skipped Noel Coward’s latest play, a big film and two TV offers to return to the provinces. Donning a gigantic false nose for his debut as Cyrano de Bergerac, he said: “Some time ago I declined an offer to appear with the London Old Vic. This is much more exciting.
“After 30 TV plays in three years I wanted to do classical roles with new people. Nothing would please me more than to lead a company at the London Old Vic, but they were stuck with a fixed programme with the same people time and time again. This had no original appeal for me. Now with a new director, we hope things will happen.” The Daily Mail – 20th May, 1959
“PETER WYNGARDE fastens on his actors feast – last enjoyed by Sir Ralph Richardson – with a cocksure flourish”. The Daily Express.
“PETER WYNGARDE as Cyrano displays one of the most remarkable pieces of acting I’ve ever seen in the theatre.” Brian Booker – The Guardian
“In PETER WYNGARDE, an actor still in his twenties, they have a magnificent Gascon – the poet, the soldier, the clown and the romantic Romeo barricaded behind a grotesque nose.
The production by John Hale, moves with the play with all the panache of its hero”. The Times
“PETER WYNGARDE is magnificent as the complex-ridden Romantic. Whether as the soldier, the poet or the tender lover, he gives a compellingly brilliant portrayal of Rostand’s individualist, hampered by a grotesque nose”. The Bristol Evening World
“…each character was decisively and sympathetically established in this persuasive production by actor PETER WYNGARDE, and the relationships between them were responsibly handled in the fluctuating mood of this antipathetic household.” Peter Rodford, Plays and Players – May 1959
‘PETER WYNGARDE’S Cyrano must be the best performance he has given. He has the grand romantic manner that makes a truly great Cyrano, and he makes this hero – whose only weakness is his dread of his own ugliness – dominate the stage.” The Daily Express – May 19th, 1959.
PETER was also meant to play John Worthing in ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ during this Old Vic season, but the production was never staged.
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