Robert Tanitch reviews books on Shakespeare, Charles III and Gielgud

Robert Tanitch reviews books on Shakespeare, Charles III and Gielgud

SHAKESPEARE IN 100 OBJECTS (Nick Hern Books £19.99). The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a wonderful and fascinating  collection of material related to performances of Shakespeare’s plays: paintings, sculptures, jewellery, engravings, figurines, posters, playbills, costumes and photographs, which in turn are  related to such famous names as Ellen Terry, Sarah Siddons, Sarah Bernhardt, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, and many, many more.

Dip into the book and you will find such treasures as: the doublet and hose Henry Irving wore in Much Ado About Nothing; Sally Jacob’s model for Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; a ticket for David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee; an 1860 playbill for Richard III in which the horse was the star; the tunic Nureyev wore in his ballet of Romeo and Juliet; a 1730 terracotta bust of Shakespeare; Edmund Kean’s sword; Laurence Olivier’s doublet for Richard III; and the Bed of Ware!

The accompanying commentary is always very well informed. The book will appeal to anybody interested in Shakespeare in performance and will also whet the appetite for a visit to the V&A.

KING CHARLES III by Mike Bartlett (Nick Hern Books £9.99). I enjoyed this future history play so much when I saw it at the Almeida Theatre, with Tim Piggott-Smith in the leading role, that I wanted to see it again. But the run is completely sold out. Hopefully, Rupert Goold’s production will transfer to the West End and eventually go on tour. There are two major surprises. The first is that it is in blank verse and sounds very Shakespearean.

The second is that it is totally sympathetic to Prince Charles. The action is set in the days leading up to his coronation – or will it be his abdication? The Labour government wants Charles to sign an act of parliament which restricts the freedom of the press. He refuses to do so and causes a constitutional crisis. Bartlett’s play, witty but essentially serious, is the best theatrical thing of its kind since 1928 and Bernard Shaw’s The Applecart.

IN SEARCH OF GIELGUD A Biographer’s Tale by Jonathan Croall (Herbert Adler Publisher £10.95).  When I wrote my book on John Gielgud’s career I was lucky enough not only to meet him regularly but also to have him personally deliver all of his 19 massive cuttings books to my flat all in one go.

When I expressed my worry of accidents (fire, water) he showed no concern whatsoever: “I don’t want to read them again ever!” When Jonathan Croall came to write his first-rate biography, Gielgud was much older and no longer as accessible as he had been for me. Croall had to contend with an elusive publisher and Sheridan Morley, who was also writing a biography and did not want Croall’s version to see the light of day. Croall kept a diary which records not only his meetings with a host of famous names, but records his own trials and tribulations, which leave him very embittered..

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