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’.
The Taming Of The Shrew
- Tuesday, 24th February – Tuesday, 16th March, 1959
- Character: Petruchio
Part 1. Padua: In the streets and garden of Babtista’s house.
Part 2. Petruchio’s house in the mountains and the streets of Padua.
Part 3. On the road to Padua. A street in Padua. The garden of Lucentio’s house.
PETER as Petruchio with Joan Heal as Katharina
‘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.
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 Katherina 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.
The play was filmed and shown by ITV (T.W.W.) in an edited 60-minute version on March 26th, 1959.
“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
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!
Original programmes from each of the plays performed during the 1959 Season
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
- Tuesday, March 17th – Tuesday, 6 April, 1959
- Character: None. Producer
Scene: The living room of Tyrones’ summer home.
Time: A day in August, 1912.
- Scene 1. 8.30am
- Scene 2. Around 12.45
- Scene 3. About half an hour later
Act II. Around 6.30 that evening
Act III. Around midnight
This play was first performed in Britain at the Edinburgh Festival in 1958, and transferred to the Globe Theatre in London.
The author, Eugene O’Neill, who was a giant of US stage, had a hand in raising American theatre to the position it enjoys today back in the 1920’s. He’s often been referred to as the father of American drama and was responsible for opening the door for playwrights like Arthur Miller.
‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ is an autobiographical story; “a play of old sorrow”, which lays bare the sensitive feelings of a young artist in-the-making in New London, Connecticut of 1912. Without any mercy on a painful memory, he recalls the tragedy of his mother and provides portraits of a tyrannical father, of a dissolute elder brother and of himself as a young man. The play was withheld from performance until after his death in 1953, and was first presented on the American stage in 1956.
A special cast had been engaged for the play, as the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ Company was committed to television rehearsals at the time which lead to the production being shown on television on March 25th, 1959, by T.W.W.
Dorothy Reynolds, Ronald Hines and the distinguished Canadian, William Hutt, joined the cast. PETER produced the play.
Cyrano De Bergerac
- Tuesday 19th May – Tuesday, 8th June, 1959
- Character: Cyrano
- Scene 1. A performance at the Hotel de Bourgogne.
- Scene 2. The bakery of the Poets.
Act II. Scene 1. The house of Roxanne.
- Scene 2. The siege at Arras
Act III. The park of a Convent.
The first two Acts take place in 1640; the third in 1655.
PETER as Cyrano and Ingrid Hafner as Roxane
‘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.
Romance of a high old French style swept all before it at the Bristol Old Vic in May 1959. Pointing his prosperous nose at the quarter hour, Cyrano de Bergerac – that proudest of ugly men – strutted and bragged his way across the stage, consuming this wonderful old story like a wasp at a plum.
This production was the most expensive that the Old Vic had so far undertaken. It needed to be expensive, for Rostand’s happy distillation of traditional French comic fancy and romantic invention was achieved as much by the rich diversity of the small fine strokes of characterization as by the bold big theatrical situations.
Other than by engaging a great number of actors there is no way of creating the happy tumult of the first act, and if this tumult 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, the cut-purses and literary Bohemians, the quarrel-picking cardinal’s guards, and the King’s musketeers have each some distinctive colour to contribute to the drama that springs from their roistering midst.
Without them, we would understand less easily the nature of “precocity” from which the comedy extracts a special kind of nobility and pride and tenderness and magnanimity. There was no skimping of these scenes, and this particular revival must have been regarded as a charming offering made by the theatre to its patrons in the hope not of immediate profit but of future goodwill.
If this production muffed some of the comedy’s subtleties at least it managed to bring out its endearing qualities. PETER played Cyrano with a constantly sympathetic touch. The rhyming duel in which he spits his opponent on the concluding line of the improvised ballad was done with the romantic virtuosity of d’Artagan, and coming to woo Roxanne on behalf of his inarticulate friend he made it clear that the self-sacrifice had its voluptuous as well as its sublime side.
He did not 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 calamity of his nose, might be his own.
“…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
‘West End star PETER WYNGARDE last night explained why he left the bright lights for a season with the Bristol Old Vic.
The young 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 in ‘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 thirty TV plays in three years I wanted to do classical roles in a new way with new people. Nothing would’ve pleased 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, and this had no original appeal for me. Now with a new director, we hope things will happen.” The Daily Mail – May 20th, 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.
“This is largely a one-part play, and PETER WYNGARDE is a Cyrano who is sure to carry this production to success. He has the authority, the individualism, and the impeccable pride of the man set apart from other fellows.” The Daily Telegraph – May 19th, 1959.
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