Harley Granville Barker: Man of the Theatre, Dramatist, and Scholar

Harley Granville Barker: Man of the Theatre, Dramatist, and Scholar

Harley Granville Barker: Man of the Theatre, Dramatist, and Scholar

Harley Granville Barker: Man of the Theatre, Dramatist, and Scholar

Excerpt

As one of the dwindling band who served with Granville Barker in those far-off Court Theatre days my remembrance of him is one of vital sensitive youth and energy, a lithe, athletic figure, warm brown eyes, thick red-brown hair, tidily parted till he pushed his fingers through it, and an air of relaxed concentration ready to spring in a flash to action or laughter. I remember the confidence he inspired in us all by knowing thoroughly every play before he began to rehearse it. He would start by reading it to us, more for its sense than for characterization or drama. There was no preliminary exposition and no touch of director's jargon or pretentious analysis. We started rehearsing without even being told more of our characters than the stage directions told us, to see what the actors themselves first made of them. Then he would start moulding us in the direction he wanted, using every device of witty illustration and metaphor to stimulate the actor's own imagination. If the actor's view of a character differed from his, but was still loyal to the author, he would frequently accept it and incline the whole production to meet it as far as necessary. I remember, for instance, his adoption of Dennis Eadie's reading of Henry in The Return of the Prodigal as "a man whose breath smelt".

He always assumed that everyone was as keen as he on research into and expression of the author's meaning, and the motives, thoughts, and emotions of his characters, evoking the actor's enthusiasm and making everyone contribute his utmost. With his amazingly sensitive ear for speech and silence, his expressive hands and flexible body he could always help everyone to give clear expression to any ideas the actor or he wanted to convey. He would often demonstrate a rhythm or phrasing or emphasis, but seldom give an intonation, and always with the caution that it was given only to convey the thought, and must be made the actor's own before use. Then by detailed criticism he would make it subtler and more musical. This fine polishing went on right up to the last rehearsal, always by notes taken during the run of a scene, not by interrupting the flow. By the time the performance came, the whole piece was moulded into a musical and rhythmic pattern as definite as a symphony, where every word and phrase, every silence, every intonation had been scrutinized and accepted as the best he could achieve with his . . .

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