Biographies and autobiographies of Maggie Smith, Peter O’Toole and David Hare

Biographies and autobiographies of Maggie Smith, Peter O’Toole and David Hare


MAGGIE SMITH by Michael Coveney (Weidenfeld and Nicolson £20) is Avery readable account of her career. I first saw her in a revue with Kenneth Williams and then at the Old Vic, and then the National and then in the West End and then in films. Maggie Smith is and was always wonderful in High Comedy. She is extremely adept in Shakespeare, Farquhar, Congreve, Ibsen, Coward and Wilde.  Some of her best work was at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada. She always had the ability to find three laughs where other actors were struggling to find one laugh. Her witty performance in Downton Abbey is a master class in comedy acting. What a pity she never played Mrs Malaprop.

PETER O’TOOLE by Robert Sellers (Sidgwick & JACKSON £20). I saw some great performances by O’Toole in the early part of his career: notably Sergeant Bamforth in The Long and the Short and the Tall, his London debut, and the film, Lawrence of Arabia, which made him famous.. I also saw his disastrous Macbeth at the Old Vic. The biggest laugh was when he came on after the murder of Duncan, covered from head to toe in blood and said, “I have done the deed!” The line was superfluous. What else could he possibly have done?  He should have been a great classical actor but, apart from Shaw and Anouilh, he never played the classic roles. His last performance of note was in Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell, a perfect role for him.

THE BLUE TOUCH PAPER by David Hare (Faber & Faber £20). A memoir. Which of Hare’s plays are most likely to last? Plenty? Skylark? Racing Demon? The Judas Kiss? His memoir covers 1947-1979, schooldays, Cambridge, affair with Kate Nelligan, his time at the Royal Court and a contretemps with Peter Hall at the National Theatre. He was he admits a naughty boy, ruthless and arrogant. There are cameos of Lindsay Anderson, Helen Mirren, and particularly Peggy Ramsay (his agent). There is a detailed account of the rehearsals and performance of Knuckle, a play which alternating between being violent and political, prosaic and poetic was, he was the first to admit, impossible to control.

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