Who’s Kidding Who Episode 2: The Kids

In these enlightened times of Conservative Parliamentary democracy, and entry into Europe, you’d think peoples’ attitudes were changing. After all, you’ve only got to walk down the High Street on a Saturday morning to see some of those massive changes, like the communal knees up going on outside Boots. The “TV Times”, organ of the IBA reflects the blatant hypocrisy of our times admirably.

Under the title “Not just a pretty face,” it announced recently in large type that “more and more actors are taking parts that present them as pretty.” I pinch myself. No, I’m not reading “Jeffrey” or an early edition of “Films and Filming”. There on the facing page are photographs of David Essex, Murray Head, Brian Deacon and Bjorn Andresen (Death In Venice) looking provocatively sexual.

David Essex – Is he just a pretty face? The one-time Jesus consistently says he is married. [Photograph: R.I. Poff]
Interview one, and did you know, back-stage at “Godspell” you can’t tell the difference between the young men and women prancing around with make up on. “A young man hugged and kissed a woman with the words, “Mind my make up darling.” David Essex, as Jesus, accompanied by his much stressed wife, apparently giggling, thinks, “pretty boys are doing well, because young girls have loud voices and seem to be carrying all the weight at the moment.”

Well let’s face it, they are a big giggle aren’t they, these instant exposé interviews on the permissive society of theatre and films, where everyone pretends to be just that teeny weeny bit perverse, but where they’re really happily married. It’s all one big blue joke really.

A bit further down the page our hack feature writer gets to Murray Head, and the elegant prose gets still more disturbing. Head, we are told, lives chain smoking hand rolled cigarettes, with his wife, in a Chelsea flat that looks like a ‘set for Scheherezade’, just like the flat the character he played in Sunday Bloody Sunday lived in, in fact. Arrogantly, he informs our heroic interviewer that personally he doesn’t care if the public consider him to be bi-sexual. “But it may have prevented him from getting other parts. Directors have said they don’t want someone like that in their films.” Poor Murray, he goes on to say that he had to suppress so much of himself to play the part in Sunday Bloody Sunday, that after the strain he had to find himself again.

If I was John Schlesinger and I read that interview, I would plunge into something rather worse than a sea of despair. Surely the crux of Sunday Bloody Sunday lay in exposing the madness of preserving an outer crust of middle-class respectability, while leading a completely contrary private life. It set out to show as ridiculous the whole concept of attaching importance to appearance and reputation and success, that ultimately, it is our relationships with others, homosexua heterosexual or bisexual that bring real despair, or real happiness. Without questioning Murray Head’s aggressive heterosexuality, it seems very disappointing that working with one of the world’s greatest directors in a film that has done more to put peoples’ minds straight about their sexuality and nonsensical life-style, than almost any other book or film, none of the ideas in it even pierced Mr Head’s seemingly very thick skin. Perhaps that’s why he was chosen “from 2000” to play the character he did play.

In conclusion, did you know that Dirk Bogarde had “early problems because of his good looks,” and Tony Curtis “faced similar difficulties”.

Two Right Royal Evenings

CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre.

I once knew an obscure silent film star whose every other sentence involved famous people. She’d speak of meeting Scott Fitzgerald at a dinner given by the King of Spain, but on asking further questions about them, she had very little else to say. I was reminded of her whilst watching CROWN MATRIMONIAL as the first scene set in Marlborough House has the Queen Mary asking her son, on his return from the continent, “How was George of Greece, and did you see Carol of Rumania?” This sort of name dropping is all very well provided it is going to lead somewhere, but apart from a few words, nothing further is mentioned of these famous personages.

Likewise I felt at times as if I were visiting Madame Tussauds, so much did these players resemble the real people in face and dress. Although the plot is familiar, interest is held throughout by the course of events and the dialogue given to the stage Royals. Who can presume how these characters would act and talk when in the privacy of their homes. The author Royce Ryton has used his imagination well. Aided by Wendy Hiller, portraying Queen Mary, one senses the feeling of royalty and grandeur in her every move.

Peter Barkworth playing Edward 7th reminded me of that monarch’s smile and warmth, whilst Amanda Reiss received an ovation on her first entrance for her uncanny resemblance to our present Queen Mother at that time. I was less happy with Andrew Ray’s impersonation of George 6th, feeling he was too young for the role, but in his one big scene he was extremely moving. Lastly the costumes and sets are first rate, and just how I would imagine the interior of a Royal household would look.

I AND ALBERT at the Picadilly Theatre

When one reads of delays of an opening night, hears stories of early previews over-running by 45 minutes, and of the leading man being taken ill and the understudy taking over at short notice, then the signs are surely there that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’, or in this case at the Piccadilly Theatre.

What possessed that fine director John Schlesinger to become involved in all this? I would call it ‘a pageant with music’ as it turned out to be the most talkative musical I’ve yet come upon. The musical score manages to range the entire field of music in one evening, commencing with an oompah pa song about naughty London in the early 1800’s (did I detect some rather risque lyrics well hidden under the blaring orchestra?), a syncopated modern style tune that owed a lot to the song ‘The best is yet to come’, all the way to a tender ballad sung by Prince Albert. The title song ‘I and Albert’ is tuneful, and the ‘Victoria and Albert Waltz’ is a haunting theme used when they first meet. Somewhere in the second half Disraeli stops the show whilst performing conjuring tricks and singing with great panache the sung ‘When You Speak with a Lady’. But this song is out of place with the character and plot so that it takes several minutes to settle back into ‘the plot’ … and oh how that plot goes on and on without really reaching any point. Polly James plays Victoria competently enough, ranging from young womanhood to old age, though one wonders what became of her middle years. At one time the character she portrays was aged around the late 50’s, but there she was giving an impersonation of a woman of 70 – no in-between, alas.

Sven Bertl Taube makes a handsome leading man as Prince Albert. He has a good singing voice and is suitably stiff and solemn as the part calls for. Aubrey Woods and Lewis Fiender play two roles each during the evening as Victoria’s ministers and bring light comic relief to the proceedings. The show would be lost without the two stairways placed on either side of the stage and a great deal of the action is performed on them which involves the cast running about on them ’til one gets almost dizzy watching. After Albert dies, the stage is draped in black mourning, both costumes and curtains are black and there is a feeling of ‘death in the family’ which is almost prophetic of the show itself.