Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Never Seen The Scene

I was looking through Logan Gourlay's book on Laurence Olivier, made up of interviews with numerous acquaintances of the great actor who mostly talk about his work in the theatre.

It occurred to me that the difference between this and a book about someone who's primarily a movie star is when I read about a performance by, say, Jimmy Stewart or Dustin Hoffman, I've probably seen it.  Whereas Olivier famous roles were seen by, relatively speaking, very few--and that number keeps getting smaller each year.

And yet, I've read enough about Olivier (as well as contemporaries like Gielgud and Richardson), and seen so many photos of him in costume, that I feel I know quite a bit about his stage career.

I could list a lot of Shakespearean roles he performed in such plays as Romeo And Juliet (alternating as Romeo and Mercutio with Gielgud), Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello (in different productions he was Iago and Othello), Henry IV (1 and 2), Henry V, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night (at different times as Sir Toby Belch and Malvolio), Titus Andronicus and The Merchant Of Venice.

Then there are other classics such as Arms And The Man, Peer Gynt, Uncle Vanya, Oedipus, The Critic (the last two he performed on the same bill), The Master Builder, Love For Love, A Flea In Her Ear, The Dance Of Death and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

And also contemporary works such as Private Lives, The Entertainer and Rhinoceros.

I even know, generally, how these performances were received.  Some were triumphs, some were failures, some were considered controversial.

Even though I've never seen Olivier perform live for one second, it's odd how I feel like I know him as a stage performer.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I assume that for the last 40 years, at least, there are video recordings of major stage performances. At least of dress rehearsals, so actors can review their own performances. I would like to get a video recording of the live performance of Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables in their first runs, as opposed to the film adaptations.

2:59 PM, May 09, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

At a certain point, Broadway starting videotaping its shows. It was done for research purposes, not entertainment. (Which makes sense, since a video of a live show never quite captures the feeling of being there.) I don't know when they started doing this, but too late to capture most of the stuff I'd like to see.

5:13 PM, May 09, 2018  
Blogger New England Guy said...

Shakespeare's plays were written in the 6\16th and 17th centuries but Olivier's Shakespeare movies scream mid-twentieth century to me. Something about the underlying style

4:51 AM, May 10, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

The people in the book mentioned are generally not impressed with the Shakespeare movies. For that matter, very few like Olivier's stage Hamlet. (Olivier was a lot of things, but he wasn't indecisive.)

Shakespeare in general comes across weird in the often naturalistic medium of movies.

Another theme in the book is that Olivier was better at comedy than tragedy. His Shakespeare films don't give us much chance to tell, unless you want to call Richard III as a comic role.

8:59 AM, May 10, 2018  

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