Reading the Theater, 2023

For the third year running, Lory at Entering the Enchanted Castle has suggested April as a month of reading books connected to the theater — plays, books about the production of plays, novels set in theaters, biographies of actors, directors, producers, composers, and playwrights — the options are innumerable. You can find Lory’s report of her April reading here.

I’d originally thought I’d read Beryl Bainbridge’s An Awfully Big Adventure, about a feckless young woman who gets involved with a production of Peter Pan. I’d read the novel many many years ago, and was ready for a re-read. But then, on about page 5, I remembered how it ended, and I lost heart. I need to be in a certain mood to read Bainbridge, for none of her novels end happily. Beautiful writing, terrific stories, remarkable characters. But draining. I couldn’t face another page.

Instead, I read Peter Pan itself — Barrie’s famous play about the boy who never grew up (and then I had to dig out my ancient video tape of Mary Martin as Peter Pan and watch that, with the marvelous Cyril Ritchard as Mr. Darling/Hook). Barrie’s humor is apparent in his stage directions as well as in the play itself. He begins with this:

The night nursery of the Darling family, which is the scene of our opening Act, is at the top of a rather depressed street in Bloomsbury. We have a right to place it where we will, and the reason Bloomsbury is chosen is that Mr. Roget once lived there. So did we in days when his Thesaurus was our only companion in London; and we who he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment. The Darlings therefore lived in Bloomsbury.

Poster for the 1957 film

Information completely unnecessary to the set up for the play — and yet, this paragraph gives us an idea of the shabby gentility of the Darling family. Watching the play is wonderful, but reading Barrie’s full text is even better. I went on to read The Little Minister and The Admirable Crichton, just a dip into the 20 or so plays Barrie wrote.

Barrie starts Crichton with this sentence: “A moment before the curtain rises, the Hon. Ernest Woolley drives up to the door of Loam House in Mayfair.” Again, if we’re watching the play, there is no way that we would know this, for the Hon. Ernest Woolley doesn’t mention this upon entering the stage. Yet, as Barrie goes on, he offers oodles of background on the Hon. Ernest Woolley: “There is a happy smile on his pleasant, insignificant face, and this presumably means that he is thinking of himself.” And a few lines later, “Probably Ernest’s great moment is when he wakes of a morning and realizes that he really is Ernest, for we must all wish to be that which is our ideal.”

Despite The Little Minister being a bit silly, I plan to read more of Barrie’s plays. I’m grateful to Lory (and to Beryl Bainbridge) for sending me in this direction.

Fans from production of The Mikado,
Light Opera of Oklahoma, 1990s

Several years ago I started the first book in Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher mystery series, but abandoned it after realizing I detested Miss Fisher as well as Greenwood’s style. I also tried watching the TV program, but no luck. I still didn’t like Miss Fisher. But, ever hopeful, I tried Ruddy Gore, the seventh book in the series, and abandoned it after a day’s slog. By this time, I’d learned to abhor poor Miss Fisher and to loathe Greenwood’s writing (how often must I be told that Miss Fisher never blushed?).

Much more fun to read Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore: Another “topsy-turvy” plot on which to hang some of Sullivan’s compositions. The most famous scene is when the figures in the ancestral portraits step down from their frames and explain the curse under which the hero must live: to commit a crime every day of his life, or die a horrible death. A good man is forced to commit evil, thereby losing the love of his life. Perfect Gilbertian plotting.

That’s it.

And thanks again to Lory for inspiring this jaunt to the theater!

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
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10 Responses to Reading the Theater, 2023

  1. Lory says:

    As you’ve seen I did read Ruddy Gore through to the end for this month, but I wasn’t that impressed. Much better idea to watch Ruddigore.

    I’ve never read Barrie, that is good to know that the stage directions are worth reading. I may seek out some of his works next year.

    Thanks so much for joining in with Reading the Theatre!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Calmgrove says:

    Barrie’s stage directions (or rather, background for director and cast) seem to suggest he wasn’t really sure if he was novelist or playwright – wasn’t Peter Pan first a play before it was a book?

    Anyway, I’ve only read the two Pan titles but not his other work. After The Tragedy of Arthur (which I believe you may have recommended) I may give Volpone a try out next April…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Yes, Chris, the play preceded the novel by nearly 10 years. By that time, Barrie had published several novels and plays, and probably enjoyed wearing both hats at once. “In your face, purists!” Much of the language from the play is lifted directly into the novelization, so you can see right off which parts Barrie admired — nearly all of them!

      I know I reviewed The Tragedy of Arthur a few years ago, so perhaps that put the title onto your TBR list. If so, you’re welcome! As for Volpone, I read it in college and have never since been tempted to give it another go.

      Liked by 1 person

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