George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 51
Master of Stagecraft

THE TREMENDOUS EFFORT WHICH Shaw PUT FORTH IN REHEARSING COMPANIES producing his plays exemplifies his passionate perfectionism. The strain of prolonged rehearsals of five, six, seven hours, was surely much greater for Shaw than for the actors. But in this case he never wearied in well-doing, until the players', not his own, limit of endurance was reached. Regarding the excessively long rehearsals for the Malvern Festival Saint Joan, which were held at Birmingham over a period of several days, a close observer remarks: "I was fortunate enough to be with him right through the dress rehearsal of St. Joan. It began at 7 o'clock in the evening and at 1: 30 A.M. I walked back with him to his hotel. Mr. Shaw was on his feet most of the time and after each scene he climbed up the gang plank on to the stage and gave some final hints to the actors and actresses. . . . Sir Barry Jackson told me that after Shaw has taken a rehearsal there is a marked difference in the performance, for G. B. S. not only tells the actors what to do: he can show them how to do it. He encourages them to act for all they are worth, and he does it in a gentle, persuasive manner."1

Mr. Roy Limbert, who was so long the admirable and genial Director of the Malvern Festival, speaks with the authority and intimacy of an eye-witness:

At rehearsals Shaw will act every part and produce every passage. Years ago he rehearsed us in You Never Can Tell at Malvern. The rehearsal started at 11 o'clock. Shaw said he was far too old to have a long rehearsal.

That, mark you, was more than a dozen years ago. At 1: 45 some exhausted actor murmured something about lunch. Shaw hadn't noticed the time. He apologized profusely. "We'll go immediately to lunch," he said. The company breathed relief. "And," said G. B. S., "we'll be back at 2:15 sharp."

Back they were. Throughout the afternoon Shaw played every part in turn, brilliantly. About 5 o'clock Limbert was a little worried. Another show was on that night, and a dress rehearsal was needed.

He gently drew Shaw's attention to the time. Shaw was shattered. Again

____________________
1
G. W. Bishop, cited by R. F. Rattray in Bernard Shaw: A Chronicle ( Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., London, 1951), p. 256. Quoted by courtesy of Mr. G. W. Bishop.

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