British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview
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Michael Redgrave and
The Mountebank's Tale


IN 1958 MICHAEL R EDGRAVE was appearing for the third and last time at Stratford-upon-Avon. The parts he played that year were Hamlet and Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing. Hamlet was a brave choice. My father was by then 50. In an age less fearful than ours of growing old, great actors like Sir John Martin Harvey had been able to make a lifetime's work out of a part like Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Sir John performed it 4,004 times and gave his farewell performance in the role at 74 and audiences hardly seemed to mind. But by 1958, to play Hamlet at 50 was a risky thing to do and on the whole I think that Michael managed it with great skill. No, I'll go further: I think it was the best Hamlet he ever gave.

Stratford then, as I think it still does, had a summer festival to which scholars, historians and artists came from all over the world. My father was invited, as he had been twice before, to give a lecture. He was a good lecturer. He had given four Rockefeller lectures at Bristol University in 1953, which then became one of the most suggestive, illuminating books about acting, The Actor's Ways and Means (1953). Other lectures were brought together in a book called Mask or Face (1958).

But on this occasion he must have felt that he had said all he wanted to say about acting in lecture form and he chose instead to write a long short story or novella, The Mountebank's Tale (1959). I think that this was a shrewd choice. In fiction he was able to say more about himself, his acting, more about his understanding of theatre than he had yet been able to say in the more conventional form of lecture or essay.

Corin Redgrave is an actor, director and author. Since his debut in 1962 his work has been divided almost evenly between theatre, film and television. He is the author of Michael Redgrave: My Father (RCB, Fourth Estate, 1995) and Julius Caesar and the English Revolution (Faber & Faber, 2002). As a playwright he has written Roy and Daisy (1998), Fool for the Rest of his Life (2000), Blunt Speaking (2001) and Not Half the Man I Used to Be (2002?), all plays commissioned for BBC radio. He has been the editor of The Marxist, a bi-monthly journal, since 1987, and is an occasional freelance journalist.

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