The Irving Society Newsletter No 57
THIRTEENTH ANNUAL DINNER
New Cavendish Club, 44 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7BS
Friday, 28 October, 2011
Report: Rebecca Kilgarriff Photo: Sylvia Starshine
It was a damp dark night as we made our way through the London streets to the New Cavendish Club, much as it might have been one hundred and forty-five years ago, as (atmospherically evoked by Frances Hughes) HI walked from his nearby digs to the St James’s Theatre. She went on to tell us that Irving danced in that show and so, as we ate, we were to ke ep in mind HI performing a minuet.
The club is unpretentious and comfortable, and the Muriel Sample room attractive and bright, with portraits including Kate Moss and a slightly alarming one that could have been Hitler but we hoped was actually Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.
After Frances’ welcome, our Patron Ellen Terry Craig said a grace th at was ironic enough to satisfy the more heathen among us, and the dinner began. Sylvia Starshine’s beautifully designed menu listed ‘Sikes’ Starters’, ‘Mathias’ Mains’ with Seasonal Vegetables ‘Al Dante’, and ‘Cool’ desserts. Conversation on my table ranged from accidents on stage, Gielgud anecdotes (in evitably) and Dutch Television, to the pros and cons of UPV C windows. You can’t say we weren’t catholic in our choice of topics.
As we took coffee after an excellent meal, Michael Kilgarriff offered the Loyal Toast, preceded by a toast to the memory of the Society’s founder chair, Michael Sharvell-Martin, who had died a year before to the day and is so greatly missed.
Frank Barrie then rose to speak (a short notice replacement for Malcolm Sinclair). He spirited us away, back to his time in Olivier’s first company at the National, with touching and light-hearted stories (I find it hard to shake off the image of Maggie Smith saying ‘How Now Brown Cow’ to Olivier as he applied his Othello hue). Mr Barrie continued with tales of Gielgud and W olfit, wry but always respectful. It was a charming evening, and as non-member of the Irving Society I was touched by the enormous affection and esteem for the man who would have walked past, nearly a century and a half ago, on his way to work.
Rebecca Kilgarriff is the Editor’s daughter
KING RICHARD THE THIRD
Old Vic, Sunday, 28 August
Report by the Editor
It will not, I hope, be regarded as pusillanimous when I say that the most significant aspect of this Bridge Project production, so far as our Society is concerned, was the name check given us in the programme. Allow me to quote from Simon Tisdall’s article therein on Richard III’s performance history:
‘Irving, the first actor to ever receive a knighthood, made it his mission to raise theatre to the level of other art forms in England,’ says Michael Kilgarriff, Honorary Secretary of The Irving Society. ‘He idolised Shakespeare, having learnt most of the playwright’s texts as a child. It is possible to see, then, why Irving would have returned to his Richard III as part of his own personal quest to promote serious British drama. The central role is also one that would have been big enough to accommodate Irving’s personality.’
Clement Scott declared of Irving’s 1877 Richard that ‘it is his greatest triumph as an actor’. One might well say the same of Kevin Spacey’s electrifying ‘bottled spider,’ showing us a man twisted in body and mind, avuncular, vicious, charming, menacing, and above all crazed with lust for the throne. He also gives full measure to the opportunities for black humour in the immense part – now and then verging on what actors call naughtiness’ – without detracting from the hollow wretchedness of Richard’s inner life. Shameful to report, the American’s delivery and diction were far the clearest of the entire company, British members included.
Sam Mendes’ production, at three and a half hours with one interval, was swift moving and imaginatively lit, though the incidental drumming, while effective, was at times over-intrusive. At the calls the capacity house, which included a party of IS and STR members in the Lilian Baylis Upper Circle, roared their approval. And rightly so.
North London Actors
Grand Union, Highgate, 19 October
Report and photo by Sylvia Starshine
Despite having only four hours to prepare and using ‘found’ props the company, directed by Ken Michaels , managed to bring depth and meaning to the drama. Hayward Morse (son of the late Barry Morse ) conveyed with quiet restraint HI’s career-defining part of Mathias, a role which so easily could have descended into histrionic farce. North London Actors meet regularly to present script-in-hands performances of ‘forgotten’ plays. Membership is encouraged at £5 per annum. Details on this and future readings may be found on Facebook and at their site: www.northlondonactors.co.uk
A RATTLING GOOD TALE
This story is related in a review of the memoirs of Sir David Murray RA, published in the London Evening News, 22 February, 1929. It was discovered among the papers of Edy Craig, Ellen Terry’s daughter, and sent in by our Chair, Frances Hughes..
At a dinner at the Comyns Carrs with Murray, Ellen Terry and Irving as guests, HI talked about a recent North American tour.
At one American city he was shown over a lunatic asylum where an inmate, to whom he spoke, had a pet rat. The officials had previously warned Irving that it would be inadvisable to take any notice of the rat and dangerous to touch it, though otherwise the man was quite harmless. When Irving had chatted to the madman for a little, his sympathetic personality having established a friendliness between them, he did mention the rat for it was held all the while to the poor fellow’s breast.
As he fondled it the man confided to Irving that he was protecting the creature from people who were always looking for a chance to do it harm. Soon the officials were amazed to see their visitor petting and stroking the jealously guarded rat, while the madman, holding the creature in his hand, murmured loving reassurances to it.
Murray said that when Irving told this story he instinctively acted it, fussing as the man with pathos in his words and caressing an imaginary rat whilst presenting the indescrib able tenderness of the lunatic. At the end of the story Ellen cried out, ‘Harry (sic), that’s the finest piece of acting you have ever done!’
EDY WAS A LADY
194pp. 84 ills. Published by Matador
ISBN 9781 780880 129
HB £16.99 PB £9.95
It’s the book we’ve all been waiting for, and on Friday, 4 November, the memoirs of Edith Craig, daughter of the best-loved actress of her age, Ellen Terry, edited and copiously annotated by member Ann Rachlin, were finally launched at BFI Southbank, London.
In her presentation Ann outlined her discovery of the handwritten pages, dictated by Edy to Vera ‘Jacko’ Holme, an actress and fellow suffragette, in the possession of actor Heron Carvic, widower of Edy’s cousin Phyllis Nielsen-Terry.
A packed house, which included Ellen Terry Craig and her sister Bunty Taylor, great-granddaughters of Ellen Terry, Sir Donald Sinden (also a Patron of the Society) and Sir Michael Holroyd, biographer of HI and ET and their respective families, sat enthralled by rarely-seen silent film of Ellen and Edy, showing how alike they were. Also screened was a brief WW I film on airraid precautions which had never before been publicly exhibited.
How fascinating it was and how privileged we felt to see an aged Ellen Terry displaying grief at the loss o f her son in action, to see Edy as a staggering drunk, and to see the likes of Ivor Novello, Constance Collier, Gladys Cooper, and C. Aubrey Smith in their pomp.
Ann has done us all a huge favour by making available the thoughts and recollections of a woman whose accomplishments and achievements deserve to be better known.
‘THUS THE WHIRLIGIG OF TIME…’
Last January’s TI included a photo of a brooch which may have been made from a dress shoe buckle (or buckles) belonging to HI. Tricia Sabine hoped that the members hip could provide further information; unfortunately the wrong email address was given, so if you think you can help contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
HON SECRETARY OF THE IRVING SOCIETY REQUIRED
To start 6 February, 2012. Maximum interest and job satisfaction. Reasonable expenses. Applicants should be computer literate. Every assistance offered with the handover. If you’re thinking about it but aren’t sure
whether to commit contact me for a chat. See box below. MK.
‘Authorial, Antiquarian and Acting Authenticity in Henry Irving’s King Lear’, by Richard Foulkes.
p p . 119 -130 in L i t e r a t u r e and Authenticity, 1780-190 0. Essays in Honour of Vincent Newey.
Eds: Ashley Chantler, Michael Davies, Philip Shaw. Pubs: Ashgate £55.
Apart from Richard’s contribution the essays all deal with English poets.
Sunday, 5 February, 2012
Wreath-Laying at HI’s Statue 2.30pm
AGM at Concert Artistes’ Assn 3.15pm
Heritage Lecture: 4.15pm
Prof Richard Foulkes
Lewis Carroll & The Lyceum
Cutting of Birthday Cake 5.00pm
Admittance for Non-Members £3
Saturday, 28 April, 2012
Coach trip to Rye and to Ellen Terry’s home, Tower Cottage, in Winchelsea. Also a conducted tour and a visit to the town museum. Details t.b.a.