Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Bunbury in London

On January 31st 1939 there was a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Globe Theatre. The doyen of English theatre critics at the time had this to say about the cast:

Mr Gielgud, rightly aiming at the humourlessness of John Worthing, conveys a sense of dudgeon... probably the part is unplayable, for how to reconcile humourlessness with the invention of that brother?... Miss Joyce Carey's Gwendolen and Miss Angela Baddeley's Cecily... are not more consciously inane or unconsciously dewy than any other ingenues in any other comedy... And now let me say that the farce comes to full flowering in the persons of Miss Margaret Rutherford's Prism and Miss Evans's Lady Bracknell. Of Miss Rutherford I must be content to say that she could not miss perfection if she aimed wide of it, while to do Miss Evans anything approaching justice would require a whole essay... As long as she is on stage one has no doubt about anything except the relative grandeur of Lady Bracknell's upholstery, and those two hats in one of which swans nest while in the other all the fowls of Rostand's Chantecler come to roost.

In Anthony Asquith's film made thirteen years later the performances of Margaret Rutherford and Edith Evans were, happily, preserved for all time, but the ingenues had to be replaced, for they were hardly dewy, even in 1939: Angela Baddeley was 35 then (and in 1971-75 became Mrs Bridges in all five TV series of Upstairs, Downstairs), while Joyce Carey was 41: in 1945 she was the station buffet attendant Myrtle Bagot in Brief Encounter who flirted decorously with Stanley Holloway ("I'm sure I don't know to what you're referrin'... ").

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