Magazine article The Spectator

Sixties Twaddle

Magazine article The Spectator

Sixties Twaddle

Article excerpt

When, in 1966, I fancied myself as a drama critic, I was sent by a magazine, London Life, to review a play called US or 'us' staged at the Aldwych Theatre by the RSC. At the age of 21 I should have been deeply impressed by the play because it reflected the fashionable anti-Americanism of the period and the anti-Vietnam war sentiments of the time. In fact, I thought then, and even more so now, that it was a typical example of Sixties twaddle.

I was not the only one. At the end of the play the cast remained on stage frozen in a tableau of some sort. We sat there for some moments wondering if the play had finished or not, until, in the row in front of me, Kenneth Tynan rose to his feet and shouted something like, `Are you waiting for us, or are we waiting for you?' This was the most thrilling part of the evening and, with relief, we took this as the signal to leave. I was reminded of this silly production when Radio Three broadcast US as the Sunday Play last weekend, interspersed with comments from Sir Peter Hall, Michael Kustow and Glenda Jackson, who made her name in the show. She was little known at the time, but it was apparent that evening what a fine actress she was. The programme was also meant to be a homage to the writer and director Sir Peter Brook, who created the original show.

I think it was at the start of the interval at the Aldwych that members of the cast stumbled up the aisles with paper bags over their heads and their hands outstretched. In the race to the bar, considerably hastened by the sight of the groping bag-people, we discussed what this was supposed to mean. Someone said that if we had helped the cast find their way it meant we cared about the suffering of the Vietnamese. If we rushed for the exits or refused to help we were fascist pigs. Whether this was the intention of Brook, I have no idea as the Radio Three programme didn't mention this aspect of the play. Anyway, this fascist pig went for a gin and tonic. Brook has said of US that it was an attempt to solve the problem of how current events can enter the theatre: `We are not interested in Theatre of Fact. We are interested in Theatre of Confrontation.'

Yes, quite. But it was always the same targets being confronted: the democratic, liberal West. Political theatre, except underground and outlawed behind the Iron Curtain, rarely challenged communism. …

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