It can be no secret that, on the whole, the London critics have not taken to The Fantasticks. The Daily Mail was particularly ungracious, not to say offensive: what worker in the most mundane job would get away with confessing to falling asleep, but the Mail’s man boasts of his inability to stay awake almost as a badge of honour, whilst taking chauvinistic side swipes at the Japanese involvement in the production. Unless I misconstrue his syntax, he attributes a line to my character (‘Read on, Macduff!’) which is, in fact, spoken by Clive Rowe – not easy to confuse us, I would have thought. But in spite of the critics’ disparaging tone (and somnolence), I heard the usual spirited rendition of the overture coming over the Tannoy as I got ready on the evening after press night, and melted at the tender segue into ‘Try To Remember’. Whoops and cheers and laughs were not in short supply that night either.
The dip in attendance the West End took tonight because of the World Cup provided us with a small but engaged audience, and, although some of the cast crowded round a television in the interval to see England moving towards a draw, not one of them showed the slightest sign of falling asleep on the job in the second act, or betraying their disappointment at the score.

I am reminded of my old colleague Edward Hardwicke who appeared with Peter Ustinov in the latter’s play Photo Finish back in 1962. I had seen the play at a summer matinée at the Saville Theatre (now a West End cinema) two years before Edward and I met as supporting actors in Olivier’s Othello at the NT. He told me that during Wimbledon fortnight there was a television installed just off stage so that they could keep an eye on the Championships, and both he and Ustinov had methods of conveying the score to one another when they made their entrances. I still remember Ustinov’s rich comic stage presence in the play, with no hint of an off-stage life of ‘Who’s for tennis?’.

Talking of the show’s Japanese connection, you will see over my dressing-room mirror a framed portrait of the Shinto goddess Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto who looks after actors. Next time I will tell you how she got me the job.

I am preparing to read Jill Paton Walsh’s new Wimsey novel, The Attenbury Emeraldsrecording begins tomorrow. It is fascinating to meet what seems to me the authentic Wimsey and Harriet just after the Second World War.
4 thoughts on “IN THE LAP OF THE GODS”
  • goflorida10

    Many of the best films of all time have never won an Academy Award. So too are great stage plays left unappreciated by some in the theater seats. Critical acclaim is in the eye of the beholder. I found the excerpt below in THE LAST PARAGRAPH of the review.

    From the West End Whingers:
    "The only person who succeeds in transcending the material is veteran actor Edward Petherbridge whose hilarious portrayal of a faded classical actor seemed to belong in a different show, a show that – unlike this one –the Whingers would have been happy to sit through whether they were seated on stage or in the gods."

  • smallship1

    Ah, a new Wimsey novel. I loved her first two. I shall have to look out for it. Thank you.

    I'm sorry to hear the critics are being rough on you, but the audiences sound more appreciative.

  • MRMahard

    Critics have never really loved a show that could run for more than 4 decades without them. I'm coming to London in August and hope to see you then – I've been humming those tunes since I first saw it the year I was a freshman in college-not quite the first cast but almost! And what good news about the new Wimsey – three cheers for that! Martha

  • Middle Aged Biddy

    I am delighted that you will be reading The Attenbury Emeralds though I am champing at the bit to read the book when it is published in the UK on 16th October.

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