Seminars in theatre; Episode 29 of 31
This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars in theatre. Richard Pyatt Good evening and welcome to another this caution on the Theatre here in America and specifically New York. Tonight. We are very delighted to be able to talk about the role of cooks soldiers which is currently at the Billy Rose Theatre and produced by Herman Sherman's of Brooklyn and Raphael silver by arrangement with Ken and Tyne and starring John Callie costs the colly cos Cali Cali cause I thought I said it wrong because I had to move and I'll go. You're the reason I've gone into this six extended introduction is mentioning the arrangement with Ken and Tyne and has to do with soldiers as most New York Times readers will know by this time I think it's the third
week after the articles written so you must have had a chance to read the Times the play was banned by the National Theatre in England. Lord Chandos chairman of the of the National's board of directors denounced it as a grotesque and grievous libel. And then it was denied a commercial London production by the Lord Chamberlain the official censor who said it could be put on only if written consent were obtained from all the surviving relatives and the play as had world premiere in West Berlin where it was booed by the audience and lambasted by the critics for various reasons which we may or may not get into and to discuss. The production as well as many other facets of that are we welcome John Colly COs who plays Churchill played the title role in Macbeth of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford Connecticut in 1967 to unanimous praise from the critics he's appeared as a leading actor of the Canadian Shakespeare Festival in the title roles of King Lear and Cyrano de Bergerac among others.
Mr. McCullough cause has been acting for a number of years. At 23 he played King Lear at the Old Vic in England and later betrayed Edmund in Orson Welles production of the play at New York City Center to play Lear at 23 is a feat in and of itself and played at the Old Vic at 23 I guess is a double feat colleague was also Mr Tony church. In the play soldiers portrays Bell the Bishop of Chichester new was born and raised in London his first professional engagement was with the Elizabethan Theatre Company playing seven parts in King Henry the Fifth. He played Hickey in The Iceman Cometh at the Winter Garden Theatre in London followed by seven years with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing cards such as Polonius in Hamlet and the Shakespearean gamut. He also played in several productions directed by Clifford Williams including the deputy and with church organized and took part in a recital of Shakespeare performed for Pope
Paul in Rome and most recently he was appointed director of the new Northcott theatre in Exeter Devon show where he's also performed a Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Extensive backgrounds on all of our guests and they're well grounded in fear and needless to say. Herman Sherman is the producer of so many plays and has been I think currently Mr. Sherman you're the producer of a very popular Spofford with an album double as I'm not mistaken I'm not a producer out in this case I'm the writer the writer have right a playwright That's right director of it and the director. What were you moving outside of your usual role of producer in this case and very successfully. But I think the name Herman Sherman was quite well known and to our audience. So without much more. Biographical data into the content of the play first. John Kelly cause there has there has been a great deal written about your preparation for playing the role of Churchill in this play
about your personal attitude toward the role about the mental preparation and the physical preparation that you've had to undergo. There is this factor First of all that you your make up in playing this requires I understand two hours and you wear latex mask. Is that true. Right yes people doesn't get the impression that my entire features are covered up with with a rubber or a plastic mask as I think has been suggested in one of the reviews. This is a most. Invention I suppose on the part of Dick Smith who is I think one of the greatest makeup artists in this country if not the greatest. And he has made for me after having made a life mask of my face he sculpted molded into that life mask the actual features from the lower half of Churchill's face which he
then is cast into a mold and made in the form of a foam rubber latex innocense mask that goes over most of the features that fits absolutely perfectly onto my face is completely immobile weighs only about an hour since. And doesn't destroy any flexibility of movement on my part but obviate the necessity of piling tons of nose body or whatever or cotton wool onto my GEOS that was going to be a question I was going to ask you about the mobility and it certainly doesn't affect the mobility of anyone who watches you in performance. QUESTION Mr. Chairman the fact that this play has been banned and the reaction to the play has been rather strange from many areas. Why did you decide to produce it. Before trying to answer that Mr Piatt might I make the comment about what you just asked John about his make up that John is a very handsome slender young man of only 39 and in
churches and the proper forms of Churchill of course the makeup and the characterization have to create a man in his very late sixties I think Churchill at the time that not 43 which is the time to play Proverbs was then I think 67 or 68 and the creation goes beyond the physical make up of the mask the face the makeup the whole cast you missed the whole carriage and the whole vocal character which he creates terror which is or with my experience in the theatre the most fantastic and remarkably remarkable physical and spiritual and mental character I've ever seen. Writing to do it well and on that score by the way it is a remarkable transformation when you do see Mr. call because. In person and to see him as Churchill it is all the more remarkable because he is a slender man of thirty nine. I thought your IQ was generally want to know how to type.
And it's baffling almost I mean it is it is it's one of the most remarkable transport transformations in it but so not even for me that's not why you produce the play. Well it's one of the reasons I would tell you that when I see the play as you know it was done for its first production the English language was in Toronto. The theater ran to a new company into Canada subsidized and encouraged by the Canadian government which is very much interested in the theater and the other arts far more than we are in the United States. This production that I went to see and over in about the play itself and or should I say corroborate to my interest in the play was my absolute fascination in what I saw John was doing there and what he was up to it was a stunning thing to see for me. Well as you know Mr. Sherman you're aware of the fact that several critics of the play has gotten from most of the critics very good reviews
of the Jack role in Newsweek has indicated that the play is not the same as it was in Toronto that it has been cut in terms of content and Mr. Chorley cause has changed his performance to mirror him personation. Now this I would like to take exception to because I don't understand that review at all. We were very very pleased that Mr. Kroll gave us a really fabulous really flattering review when he saw the show in Toronto. I do not agree that my performance has degenerated into me or him personation down here in fact if anything the performance is infinitely richer because I've had more time to study it. More time to think about it we've had more time to dig into the issues involved in the play itself. And I'm baffled by this statement The play has been caught only the prologue has been tarred and reshaped quite a bit and that is mainly because Kenneth Tynan David Alexander the Devon MacDonald of it upon who translated the play for Rob and Rob himself came to conclude the author himself came
to the conclusion that he was perhaps a little muddied in his platform in what it was that he was trying to say in the prologue. And they all put their heads together and hopefully have improved the prologue before the Broadway audiences. We have not as Mr. Crawley's suggested watered the play down and tried to be ingratiating for the sake of the New York audiences this is entirely incorrect as far as I I see matter of fact if I may add something to that John. The ending of the play now the epilogue. It is far far sharper than infinitely more about Holland more than I wanted to draw in Toronto. One must always ask oneself what happens to any given person when he goes to the theatre or when he attends a party or when he just to go out for a walk on that particular day. And of course one is always at a disadvantage in criticizing a critic but I would say can only say
because I am baffled by Mr. Crowe that Mr. Crowe wasn't feeling well when he came to see the. Soldiers the second time the physiological and neurological state of Crawl not withstanding. I wonder if we could clarify it from you to color cause the distinction where is this fine line drawn between impersonation when you are made up as an exact. Lookalike with Churchill your speech intoned your intonation your mannerisms everything. One can just hear it is the way Churchill. Well you don't as a nation surely would it would imply simply the Adopt adoption of the physical vocal mannerisms of Churchill and perhaps the reading of some of his speeches. When I was offered this passage I was quite terrified of the prospect of playing it and I said to Clifford Williams You're absolutely mad because physically vocally I bear no resemblance even the age the gap is so tremendous. But he insists on my playing it and then I had two choices it seemed to me. Mr
Hawke within several interviews had suggested that the actor who played the pod must either come very close to being. Personification of Winston Churchill almost not try at all. Now it seemed to me that in the German productions that were done in Europe which had not succeeded as much as he had hoped they would be actors made no attempt whatsoever to become Churchill which granted would be difficult for a German actor let's face it speaking German to adopt any of the mannerisms. I felt very strongly that since the image of Winston Churchill was so firmly engraved on the minds of memories the hearts of millions and millions of people that I could not possibly in the English language attempt to get away with an interpretation of the play without first trying to become Winston Churchill himself. Consequently when I started to work on the part I thought that before I even looked at the play it was essential that I get it into the mind of the man to understand the man. And to adopt as many of the vocal and physical
mannerisms as I could and from there progress to an interpretation of the character as seen through the eyes of Ra. In this particular play I would say that everything you said is valid and I would say also you're almost the same victim that Churchill is being made out in the play. The means necessary to arrive at a necessary end ironically put you into position. I would say where you had to be if not one did not look at it very carefully and think very astutely about it that the very means that you had to use to achieve the ends makes it almost indelibly seem like an impersonation. Well that's unfortunate if the if the same person Asian as it were obscures the content of the Play this was certainly not my intention from the very very beginning my intention was to try to interpret the play interpret the character as Hochul saw him and adds very much to to use an analogy the Graham Sutherland portrait
for instance in terms of an artist looking at the man himself and portraying his vision of that man and his artistic interpretation of that map which in effect with words is what Harcourt has done and which I have tried to do in terms of my interpretation of the character as he is portrayed and I would offer I would be quick to say that your playing of Churchill does not in any way take away from the content if anything I think it adds a great deal to the content and we can be thankful for it. May I point out that. The group one of the producers of the play and in this case the play being directed by another by Chris Clifford Williams and watching the rehearsals and watching John without any makeup without the costume play church up day after day. There was no one could never say it was an impersonation because it was just John but the performance still was Churchill
was the same Churchill on the stage. It was his performance in what he did with every second of every word with every syllable that the characters created without the visual similarity to Churchill. I of course didn't have the advantage or disadvantage of having a look at it of seeing John in the makeup first. Herman did. He sold me out in Toronto and he saw him looking much I worked with John for two weeks when he didn't look like Jett Yes. I had never seen him look like Churchill so that when the actual make up and physical transformation a kind of a dress rehearsal I was shocked. President of course he looked like him but the acting didn't change tone from the acting was. The same integrity as it had during the rehearsal of the 23rd. The bishop who had this advantage of seeing John without the Churchill make up what affected the performance have on you. I mean would it have had he not used this Churchill make up
with the performance. Would it have been as effective. Are you playing with him and for the audience do you think. Well for me playing with him of course it makes very little difference because I mentally supplied in the same way that one can with one's imagination a lot of things the church your exterior while we were rehearsing I mean I could see it all in John's the way John acted but for an ordinary member of the audience I actually agree with John and with him and with everybody that Churchill is just simply too well-known to face must be one of the most well known faces of our time to go on stage and win some treasure not look anything like him is going to worry the audience and put them off. I think most any album and I think it will be definable and cartoon like for pictures as Churchill had I mean quite extraordinary. You mention that and also I'll just mention there's the first lady sitting in front of me whispered something in his ear.
It doesn't have the stick was in the bed scene. I think when you really how you see it is I think it was a very clever device on Rob's part because everybody immediately they see a personification of Winston Churchill says Where's the cigar and where's the brandy. And Ralph very definitely stipulates in his play that there is to be one cigar smoker in act two and nobody else is to smoke and he's a guy who had an x ray and ranty an x ray and I was holding him back and everywhere I go I want to ask was to show me something else about get back to why you did this play why I produced it why you would involve yourself in it but on a lighter note what you did have the cigar in the brandy the same. Lady leaned over and whispered very loud you might have heard of that point if you had not been involved you know the Churchill smoked cigars and drank brandy all day long and lived to be 90. Yeah. So you open up a whole new world of possibilities you know that in view of the fact that the play was not received with well you took a
chance on producing this play or what would you say that it was not a chance that you feel that this is a play that had to be produced here and should be produced and consequently you plunged in and produced it or did you have any strong feelings about the content and the particular political philosophy that seems to be expressing in the play. Of course first of all. When you say that I took a chance but whenever you produce a play you take a chance that is part and parcel of the whole theatre profession. The actor takes a chance. Their author takes a chance the director takes a chance and the producer takes a chance. We live in a world of failure and failure is a sensory to success as it isn't any art form in this particular case. I'm very very much involved in what motivated the writing of the play and what is indicated clearly and sharply in the play. I am very much involved as I think we all are in this world that we inhabit today in the fearful possibilities and
hope that they won't turn into probabilities. The terrible fear that each of us living in any Metropolis may be bombed and burned out of existence. And today the world is equipped to do just that. That is exactly the fear and the terrible question which cohort specifies it specifically discusses in this play. He takes a very great man Winston Churchill shows him at a time in history when you might say he held the world in his hands as he tried to hold the strings that bound the allies together in the fight against Hitler and against the Nazis. And he had to take crucial. Steps steps which to the best of his ability to the best of his knowledge and conscience belief what steps he had to take in order to do that to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Now the play examines these things not as an evil man but as a good man.
Faced with these terrible that alternative is shall we bombed Hiroshima. Or shall we not. This will be and it is even today a question which is answered tragically in the affirmative in Vietnam but in the play of the soldiers is the question. One simplistically put in this way shall we or shall we not or is it how we should do it whether we should bomb or whether we should use soldiers is this the question the OP is asking. Oh no no no no no I don't whether we should bomb the civilians all whether we should fight in a war whether we should limit war as much as possible while we fight it that we only fight a war because we have to is the assumption of the play in the in the head. The war against Hitler. And Hawker to say should we not take every step we can to limit the losses and the damage as much as possible and particularly the damage to the civilian. Now in fact of course the
difficulty is drawing a line between the people directly involved or not. Bell says in the same with Churchill those who neither buy arms nor construct them one may not kill whereupon the other man says when commander says Well people make the arms in the factories and the bishop says well I'm afraid so yes we can. And then the treasury secretary accuses the Bishop of hairsplitting. Well it is a difficult dividing line but we live all the time having to make difficult decisions that are not clear. And what not what is interesting about the play is that it shows that the decision isn't an easy money because it isn't easy to define and by doing so if I may add brings up the whole question of the machinery of war the instruments of war and therefore war itself. This is an inevitable conclusion one have to arrive at. And since we are living in this terrible affair what can take place with the H-bomb. Then
one has to go beyond that and ask him how well is it possible to limit it and if it isn't possible to limit it then what are we going to do. We cannot give an answer to that. We are not the play doesn't give its answer. It asks the question. Well this is one of the things that I have found so fascinating the people that I have talked to who have seen the show I have had so many questions posed for them and been forced to rethink their own position on many many stans. The play does not answer I don't think any of these questions but it poses them very fairly and very strongly. Its in a sense almost a Shavian argument that is presented by a buyer of he presents the secretary's point of view the bishops point of view and very strongly does he present Churchill's point of view which is diametrically opposed to Bell and. And to most of the other people in the play I don't think the Rock takes any specific sides I mean Churchill's point of view is simply that two wars have taught me that the man who wants to win must be as ruthless as he who must destroy
and to save the Alliance to Save the British Empire to save the British Isles. He determined on an all out war fad to absolutely destroy every single German individual who walked the face of the earth whether they bore arms or not. Now this you one can say is drastic is a heinous assumption to make. But then on the other hand you have an argument given put into churches mouth by ha called himself a German saying this people has it's Hitler because he suits them down to the ground. Where does one stand this is something that one has to make. Take a point of view on very strongly particularly now when all of us in America are involved with Vietnam and possibly with an even greater scale of warfare to lead Iran. This is an interesting theory a proposition and if you look at Churchill from the point of view of pure abstraction I think you would arrive at the conclusion
that he was he advanced no compromise whatsoever. I mean if there are there is such a theory. It's interesting they put by a number of philosophers but basically. To compromise and say that I will only kill this area or this person but not that person although that person is involved that person is my enemy is really a compromise either you as a man of action and Churchill certainly was a man of action. You kill completely and consequently you offer no compromise in advance. You choose your action based on what you do. And in this confrontation scene with the Bishop of Chichester Tony church in yourself we have a beautiful scene of the man of action Churchill and the man of intellect and reason. The bishop Yep. The paradox was here that Churchill is a man of action and intellect and reason and consequently you have this overlapping come from Howard Knox also is
one must also remember the fact that Bell was never in a position to give orders. He was never in a position of that kind of responsibility. So one may well assume even from this present text that Churchill had all the same sentiments as Bell but then having been put in a position of the most awful responsibility what was the best way to win the war as he says the best war is the shortest war. Yeah get it over with quickly which is at all how it was which is Christ to win this war and get the hell out and Bell is in the position today that most of the intellectuals are being put in in other words you clear the way for the man of action by way by way of reason and intelligence and presumably the man of action once he has been established a clear road from the man of intellect or the man of reason he is able to with clear conscience go to his own I think Churchill and this play talking about and also the
idea demonstrated that he did not need. The justification for his actions other than what he gave himself in the necessity of what he saw now out of all of this though we get the implication that somebody is saying something bad about Churchill. Well that implication was made in long before anybody read the play I mean to just go back for a second due to a remark you made about clear cut of the man of action working with clear conscience. I don't think that this is suggested in this plateau by Iraq for instance on the news of the ship or skie death for instance when when there's a great deal of talk about politics and what one must not speak of during war. That one is ashamed of a great many actions that have to take place and he makes an extraordinary statement to the effect that man may be bound by friendship nations only by interest. And he goes further saying my office still obliges me every day to say obliges me. Mind you every day to send young men who wish for nothing but to
go on living to battle and to death. I'm tired bishop. It disgusts me. So there we are seeing another side of Churchill who are very strongly not the man who is ruthlessly just throwing a lot of cannon fodder at the enemy. Why would anyone ban the place. And why would the Germans boo it. It seems to me I mean from what we all I gather from Ralph I did not see or read too much about the German production I gather from Rauf that he was booed mainly by students who felt that he had been too soft or that he was occupying themselves himself with issues that were in a sense passe and they wanted him very strongly according to him to write a play about Vietnam about the present world situation. And this is where they took umbrage with his play and they felt it was not sufficiently an anti-war play whereas in actual fact he states quite categorically that war is murder. But once you're in it what are you going to do
to put an end to it as quickly as possible. This. I suspect is one of the main reasons the young German intellectuals booed the play. Rock also told me that he thought he felt very clearly that the Germans are so ridden with guilt about the war that they felt that no criticism of Churchill who after all that can be said by them now to have saved Germany from Hitler they shouted that Churchill should not be attacked. He has and then and this is this protest I mean they kept us out of the field. And this is another point about protesting in advance with the intellectuals if you protest about for example we're talking about and you've included Vietnam and you've included Hiroshima as part of the amalgam of problems that we're facing and we're on the brink of utter destruction as far as the universe is concerned that if you protest against our involvement in Vietnam if you protest against any political movement whether the protest makes sense or not depending on how things turn out that
protest will have put you on record as having been some kind of person of action rather than a do nothing who simply do not have to do it. But on this this play there was one other factor I can understand the German reaction as described.
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 29 of 31
- Producing Organization
- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-29 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 29 of 31,” 1968-07-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-mw28f94s.
- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 29 of 31.” 1968-07-23. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-mw28f94s>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 29 of 31. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-mw28f94s