George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 50
Actor, Director, Producer

OVER A PERIOD OF SOME SIXTY YEARS, Shaw MADE A PROLONGED AND DETAILED study of acting, the theater, and the drama. In the last year of his life, he described the various steps of his evolution as a dramatist. Unlike his contemporary and sometime rival, Pinero, who had been a competent stock company actor before turning playwright, Shaw had no firsthand knowledge of the stage as an actor. On April 17, 1897, at the Bijou Theatre, popularly known as Victoria Hall, Archer Street, London, was held the copyright performance of The Devil's Disciple. On this occasion Shaw played the rôle, that is, read the lines, of the Rev. Anthony Anderson. On the program his name is jocularly recorded as "Cashel Byron." On another occasion, he acted in some theatricals got up for the benefit of an old workman member of the "International" with Dr. Edward Bibbin Aveling, Eleanor Marx-Aveling, May Morris, and Sidney Pardon, all amateurs. Shaw also played the rôle of a photographer at William Morris' house in an amateur performance during one of the soirées of the Socialist League. During the late eighties and early nineties, Eleanor Marx- Aveling was profoundly interested in the modernistic plays of Henrik Ibsen. She was a woman of ability and charm; and her husband, quite irresponsible regarding money and women, was a talented scholar and an able public speaker.

In succession she translated An Enemy of Society ( 1888), The Lady from the Sea ( 1890), and The Wild Duck ( 1900-1901). The Avelings occasionally gave drawing-room readings and performances of Ibsen's plays. Shaw always claimed to be the original Krogstad of A Doll's House in English, as he had read the part (without knowing a word of the rest of the play, he claims) at one of these drawing-room performances by the Avelings, "on a first floor in a Bloomsbury lodging-house." Eleanor Marx-Aveling took the part of Nora; and Shaw says that he read Krogstad's lines "with a very vague notion of what it was all about." In all probability the text employed was Henrietta Frances Lord's English translation. Later on Shaw played the part of the Earl of Horsham in the copyright performance of Harley Granville- Barker's Waste, in a modified version, at the Savoy Theatre, London, January 28, 1908. On the amusing playbill, which was probably prepared jointly by Shaw and Barker, Shaw is banteringly described as "late of the Theatre Royal, Dublin." On another occasion, in an emergency, he played the part of Joseph Wollaston, the Beadle to the Borough Council, in Getting Married. A

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