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And when I finally educational radio network presents special of the week the British Broadcasting Corporation in collaboration with the national educational radio network presents a trans-Atlantic forum. In this edition of forum we're going to look at the condition of the theater in two great centers of art and entertainment. London and New York. In New York is Clive Bonds an Englishman and four years ago the first Englishman to become dance and drama critic of The New York Times and here in London with me. I had a Hudson Theater Critic of the Sunday Times and playwright Tom Stoppard. It's one of those occasions when the theater really does seem a small world. Only a week or so ago Tom Stoppard was in New York himself and talking to Clive bonds and less than five years ago it was Harold Hobson who set the critical seal of triumph on a play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. By then virtually unknown dramatist Tom Stoppard. A small world. And with New York and London and the a few flying hours apart and sharing roughly the same language for many is not. There's been a constant
theatrical traffic between the two sentences of plays and even of play Geddes of actors directors designers. So much so that one might doubt whether there are still distinct few actual climates on either side of the Atlantic. But perhaps it's all one theater today. Clive Barnes are you still very conscious of a contrasting climate. Oh yes very much. I think there are three major differences the first is that the London theatre is much better off than what you might call institutional theatre. I'm thinking of things like the National Theatre that Will Shakespeare and the Royal Court then I think that you know much better off in what you might call the average guard theatre we have about 80 Broadway and off-Broadway theaters and off Broadway theaters going at any one time. And there's a much greater variety of experimentation and the third difference is in the commercial theater the ordinary day and Broadway theater where it's much more difficult to be
successful for economic reasons on Lee in the Broadway theater then in the West End so that you cannot be a small success on a Broadway theater in the way that you can in the West Wing. You have to be a big whopping smashing success. And this of course is the great difficulty Tom Stoppard Is that how you see the differences. Yes on a practical level there are other differences which are very complex. Although we think of ourselves as using much the same language you can't hope to put a London Plan in New York and expect exactly the same thing to happen in the audience because it doesn't. A couple weeks ago I saw the new Edward Albie play which appeared to me to have been written in indecent English and I read one interview which was taking it to task for its high faluting James E. and mannerisms you know and of course in a funny situation it did seem rather stylized but it in the cut me the time of it if anybody in New York 48 hours it seemed ok to me you know quite good English. And Harold Hobson Does New York seem theatrically a very long way away to you.
Not altogether it seems to me there's a original Sarek problem on between New York and London in the higher reaches of the drama the more ambitious reaches of the ground there was a great gulf between them in the commercial drama in that you get to play which in London like how the other half lives is an enormous success is I'm told a great family here in New York and in New York you get to play like Butterflies are free. It was a great success which was a terrible catastrophe in London. The difference between Munden and a New York City police speaking seems to me to be in the entertainment branches of the fetter that it is in dealing with a more ambitious product of the theater. A similarity of taste or a generator and a readiness to attempt a mutual understanding. When I looking at this divergence you would call it in the on the commercial level. This presumably relates to a difference in audience.
Well it seems to be and I speak under correction with a new audience will forgive anything for the sake of a joke as in the case of the blind man in Butterflies are free in which we fail to is unforgivable in London on the other hand the London audiences that read it too except with a quiet amusement. Social differences and snobbish distinctions which are very rightly condemned in New York. One difference is you talk about a New York audience but a lot of the commercials the ad who is not in fact and you don't go to an out of town audience at the Broadway theater is one of the great tourist attractions It's like the Empire State Building. And unfortunately sometimes you get the impression that Broadway audiences are less demanding than West End audiences. I think there is a difference in humor. Broadway audiences are used to what it's called here stand up stand up comics. It's the kind of culture the nightclub comedian the count of the wisecrack this you can see Neil Simon displays to a very large extent
with Neil Simon has never had a really considerable success in London and I think that perhaps the two places you haven't seen in London last are the red hot lovers and and the gingerbread lady could well be more successful than any other of Simon's place although they have been perhaps less successful here than any other time and place. So I think that there is a difference in approach to comedy. Yes but the math is more complicated. Clive because London's West End is a tourist attraction and most of the tourists are American. In fact the philanthropist kept going largely on American audiences and in New York it's not doing very well. The audiences and the critics are much less tolerant here especially the fasces. I mean. There was a fast game. Not now darling. We had Norman Wisdom here. Now this lasted I think two or three nights here man for a year. In England you can do want to sing at the white home you know pajama tops and everyone runs around half naked. We're not that
kind of show I didn't think would last. But you know with this kind of noticed it it got it wouldn't it wouldn't have lasted the night out. They would probably have closed it at the intermission. And you know I think you know if the guy is quite nicely as you said at the beginning guy had done that in New York there's a premium on the instant hit of course. And this comes directly presumably from the enormous costs of Broadway production precisely and what we complain about costs here but the costs there are simply astronomical. Yes. Could I just move on away from the commercial that for Mehmet because Howard Hobson You suggested that perhaps in the high reaches of the drama there was less divergence. Well when I said that I was thinking that we have plays which would move the story plays which have moved to New York with I think a certain amount of success and interest. I would put these on the more ambitious rank of drama. I would
also put the living factor. And the experiments with which I'm not entirely in sympathy myself but it generate I think they all respect where they and exciting efforts to remodel and to put new strength into the drama and it was the sort of thing that I was thinking of when the British set does say good quality plays to Broadway and the off-Broadway family. Motivated forces and the London that yes. Would you agree with me that perhaps the London theatre looked at overall is a much more integrated thing than the New York theatre in the sense that that in London almost any place that not can transfer from almost anywhere in New York. I did if I'm right and I get the impression there is a tremendous division still between the Broadway play and the off-Broadway off off Broadway circuit and that's very much less into tragedy intermarriage between the two.
Yet to an extent that is true I think that one thing you've got to remember about London is that almost everything of any quality seems to derive from the state theaters. There's a Nationals intern about Shakespeare. And if you look at the things they're good on in the way stand it nine times out of 10 they turn out to be trance transfers from either the Royal Court over the non-playing House or from something like that. What you say is very true. Well you were talking just now about the the British export to America and the past few years of course have seen a flood of British plays on Broadway culminating I suppose in this year's theatre awards the Terry awards in which British titles and British actors practically swept the board of the list of nominations. Why should this be banned. One reason is the difficulty of financing for example a playwright like jungle who's written a very interesting play called The House of Blue Leaves would have no opportunity to get it on because it's a comedy with Jane for the motive and
you know things like that it would be impossible to get down on Broadway where it is possible to get played such as Joe exactly as a present grandson Guildenstern and they already have notices from both London critics and very often from critics. Everything is as the show has already gone to kind of a good housekeeping seal of approval on it. And consequently the risk is not so much. I mean I want to talk to America about about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern producers I'm going to get it. I said if you had been given the script of. Rosencrantz could you possibly have done it in New York and he said Good heavens no. Just imagine going to going to a backas backers meeting and saying I've got this screamingly funny comedy which is a mixture of his mixture of Hamlet and you know those two little people open the door in Hamlet and it's a bit like waiting for God and it needs a cost of about 35 and well you can imagine it. It would be absolutely impossible. But backers were able to be got because it had the interest of
having had you know considered created a considerable studio in London and I think that is one of the one of the main differences and that's why much of the the most some of the most interesting experimental sings being done on Broadway are in fact imports. Yes Tom Stoppard. And you of course have had exports in New York I'd just like to know. What do you feel about the different reactions of audiences in New York and London to the simpler your place. Well getting back and having a look at the London production of my play it seemed gratifyingly slow. The English actors would have been appalled at the way it was galloped in New York. But there are all kinds of other considerations in New York. Not simply the impatience of the audience to listen to material but as David mix said you know in New York plays do not go on the on 10:30 because people's trains are going and John never tell me once he was doing Hamlet and
they had the same problem because he dined there in his white blouse and the rest is silence where seats were banging up and down and people were slamming the exit doors and hailing taxis the whole atmosphere in New York is entirely different and and as a matter of fact I'm fairly fairly reactionary of the thing of a conservative and it's rather distressing me to walk into a New York theater and instead of the rather nice sacrosanct atmosphere you get in London you get people all in then you're to say you are in squash programs for a dollar fifty which contain adverse notes of photographs and a lot of rubbish and you know how we think you know and if anybody is within an enclosed space somebody will try to sell him something. It's a different scene it really is a different scene. Well we've talked a little about the interchange between the two and particularly the British export United States I just wanted to ask you how it helps if I may know what you think is the current Continental influence on theatre in London. Is it very small much smaller it used to be or is it still very
important I think that in the moment it is diminishing This is a tendency which may be revised at any moment. But at the end of the war the influence of Franz French now to then was the best in the world was very great. The names of honor we and of soccer and of coming and you know and then of course. Beckett although Beckett is an Irishman Nevertheless he did write in French and it was tremendous. Then came the influence of the emphasis change rather to East Germany we had the enormous influence of the East L.A. company and. Somehow that hasn't continued it it seems to be the influence of the continent as you cry and or late may revive again and the influence of such things as the Orlando Furioso which was done at the Edinburgh Festival by the Italians and again by no means production of 1789 I and which
involves the audience walking amongst the plan and the distinction between the stage and the audience is totally abolished. Something may come of that but it hasn't come of it yet. Now at the moment I would say the English stage is withdrawing into itself and as for New York bands can you point to any influences important influences other than the British on Broadway. No hardly any then. For one thing we have nothing like the theatre that sees the old witch well and if you said you came here and was very badly reviewed and very badly by audiences I mean it had some at hearings naturally but generally speaking it didn't have anything like the impact it had in Europe partly because we have seen much more of this kind of theater. We always have much more dance conscious. It's the ethical community and they have for what seemed very lively and seemed rather less lively I think
in New York and much the same was true of Rabelais which also was not able to receive him. But unfortunately we are very much caught off from Continental influences largely because it costs so much to bring the regular companies over you know it's a very expensive business. We do get the Comedie Francaise about once every two years. We do have the occasional visit from small French companies that you think you're going to talk to. But generally speaking we are very much cut off from the English. Yeah well we have two eminent critics to here and I'm read it must raise the question of the respective influence of the critics in both cities but I think that question ought to go first to the practicing playwright especially one who's actually put those two immortal critics Mrs. Bird buton moon before the public. Tom Stoppard How do you assess the difference and influence of the critics in New York and London. Oh you don't need me to assess it it's notorious isn't it. Clive I'm sure you won't mind me saying all
of mine I think people that a producer delayed the opening of a play for about 45 minutes because your plane was fog bands coming in from Boston it simply wasn't worth his money or time so it's a fact of life which one simply adjusts to. I don't really know how fans can can do his job without actually going insane and I think he must. You know just develop a kind of schizophrenia every time there's a first night. Personally I don't mind how prejudiced of you might be how how how many playwrights are actors. And I get furious critics anything anything at all is better than reducing the job of a theater critic and drama to the kind of job said beauty editor does for cosmetics and what the heck is right and wrong anyway but at least the whole thing is lively person or perhaps furious and you know mutually rewarding.
This short it tells us something about the difference between the audiences doesn't it because how it helps and I imagine that you would feel that you are laboring under this difficulty if one begins to wonder whether one will have any effect. They become artificial they don't translate one's emotion adequately. One does try to put it from one. Otherwise I don't think one could do one job with any satisfaction to oneself. Kind of bones. Let's have your view about the difference between your jobs and have a Hobson's in London there is a difference obviously because we only have three papers genius papers. Although the television critics see you know we have critics on television and all the channels and they are becoming increasingly important. But that is not the same consensus of opinion that one has in London. I also think that the the American audience does tend to want to be told. I think this is perhaps I can't touristic of the American public. I think you know other areas it is
prepared to accept other people's opinions for gospel truth. You face that. But there's one thing I would point out and that is that I think the power of the New York critics is grossly overestimated. It's overpriced M-88 chiefly by the producers who wish to explain away their own failures. For example there is a Howard Prince musical at the moment Follies which is doing very nicely thank you. And yet this did not get anything like the support from the two critics who are usually regarded as essential as my colleague only the Sunday Times and myself we didn't particularly like families. He's doing superbly all over. It would all be plain which I admired enormously. I think I was about the only person along with Howard Clement who did have my wit enormously and this play has been languishing badly and comes off after a run of a total total run of the month and losing a great sum of money. So I think the power of the critics is this
is almost a convenience it's almost a myth that has been built up by producers. Certainly a serious play on Broadway unless you've got you know the kind of rave reviews which is you know this is the greatest play to hit Broadway since the introduction of took up seats. Then he really doesn't need that kind of a kind of awful gosh and serious plan probably but other planes are not nearly so cuckoo for example with caffeine happened which I thought was really a very poor thing although made him a splendid. But that review says that almost universally bad but he didn't have it so that there were other factors not nearly as simple as people pretend. And of course even here in London Harold Hobson I think you'd agree but the critics as a whole have a great effect on the ticket agents is one a very important commercial part of the London theatre. OK well I don't really know about that I do think that they have a certain influence and I think that on the House very much
maligned. I do remember when Tom struck out and then a magnificent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and a dad was done in by Oxford University Press I was in a production which was not terribly good in a very shabby and uncomfortable hall on the fringe. My colleague Ronald Brighton of the observer went to see it and wrote a review which I'm sure Mr. stop would agree with me had to consider will include solemnly I would think of the play and I think that critics. In London I hope I don't make this claim for too exaggerated. I think that although they do try to look out for new things for new players and encourage them to the best of that ability being he won't make good for mistakes of course. Yes I haven't got the slightest doubt that the brightness of you had an enormous influence on the fate of that play. Comparable perhaps to yours of
have been to 10 years ago whenever it was it was in fact the lone good review at the time. So it happens in England. But I mean having had a couple of first times here and in America you don't get the same feeling of waiting for the Times review. I mean as a first night party in America if Clive's or view is bad the way to start putting cokes back on the bottle is to knock them out for the next show. Sorry about that. There we are having abandonment you know they give me the. Time. Well we've talked a lot about the conditions and patterns of the theater the two cities. Perhaps we could not do what the theatre is trying to do in our two societies. Well what do you want to be trying to do. It's always said that it reflects society that if you like the theater adjusts its essential unreality to real life decade by
decade and second it over the past 20 or 25 years I think you'd agree. We've seen several new ways in the theater. Do you see yourself in London and New York theatres at this present time a reflection of the things that are on those to important to people or is the passion and one of escapist entertainment or is it something else entirely. Could I have your views on that. Harold Hobson Perhaps it is escapist entertainment. Yeah I was synonym for the pursuit of happiness which are according to him that is celebrated Dokument is an admirable aim to set before mankind isn't it. I think there is a tendency not to move away from the purely political drama which we had with it is splendid of dramatic activity at the Royal Court in the mid 50s rather towards this escapist drama into this pursuit of happiness and
in the fact that I hope that this will wear a gown and with too jaundiced an eye for elevated sections of intellectual society. Clive Barnes you live now in America where obviously one of the big issues of American society and it is the race issue. My impression is that this is is not reflected perhaps as much in New York yet as it ought to be or as one would expect it to be should I say what he will feelings on that. Certainly the race issue is reflected very much in the New Yorker. I mean there was a flourishing black the editor. You've got to remember that when you look at the Broadway Theater blacks hardly ever go to the Broadway Theater they don't feel that they belong there. There are many many black theaters now which certainly reflect the black viewpoint and reflect the racial division in America and certainly those political issues are very much part of it now. All of these issues are very much part of the American theater. But I think that the part of the
American theater that England sees an England thinks of is really perhaps that's the least important part of the American theater. I think that that part of the American theater is not trying to reflect society but trying to master knowledge society. But I think that there's another another thing that's happening in America where people are trying to develop a new form of theater which I don't see happening anywhere else. A new form of theatre that will be distinct from what we might call the classics yet or it will involve things like. MARTIN It will involve a certain degree of ritual a certain degree of religious celebration a certain degree of perhaps pop music certainly psychedelic lighting or a completely new concept of theatrical adventure to fit in with the new needs of society such as the need for a ritual of the need for religious assurance and things like that this is something which is very interesting in the American theatrical scene. How do you do that. Tom Stoppard because I remember you I think saying one time my feeling is still
the theater ought to start from writing but the theater is a temple of words. Essentially I'm trying to remember when I last saw a play which was a direct confrontation with the Socialists you which worked as a play. I think that really good plays are belittled by having some kind of label on them. I saw the last guy I saw as a matter of fact was the new play by Peter Nicholas of Joe Egg as a play in London Clive called Forget Me Not lane. You know if it is about a son and his father and ultimately that son's son. And if someone said to me you know that's a modest pay about a generation gap I feel that it was almost an insult to the place just make it one more play about some easy phrase in fact is a marvelous play. You know all of us in the entertainment business in that nothing is going to work there's nobody there left watching it. And.
I feel pretty good about things because this is a very great contrast in a way isn't it Howard Hobson with say Eastern Europe where in recent Yaz the right the director the actor the whole theater has played a crucial role in the most central preoccupations of society in Prague and Warsaw in Bucharest and so on. This is simply because of the different condition of society that presumably it isn't there's a rather romantic view of the influence of the theatre there. Is there a great deal of new theatre in Eastern Europe. They do magnificent productions of things like three sisters in Prague but I don't know the new work done in progress particularly relevant to the situation there. Well I was thinking of writers like for instance have. In Czechoslovakia but all said but that when they do a revival. I think I'm right in saying they tend to slant that revival in a particular way to make a comment
on something which is endemic in the political scene Oh yes yes I agree with I would imagine that is done by the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Shakespeare and that is why they're so much resented by the Badgers of Stratford upon Avon in agreement with it. I really couldn't. And as for have all you know how you know you mentioned Vaclav How have I wouldn't say that he's directly political. It reminds me of what all be said about all of that when he was he was criticised for not having any direct political commitment. He said well if you want to play about President Nixon you've written a play about President Nixon that President Nixon will go away and then the play will have no further value. But in fact if you like to play about the kind of mentality that produces a President Nixon then you've got something much more interesting to write about and I think this is where political commitment can be can be mistook I think this is what's wrong with saying it's so important that it is perhaps the best of political players do not have an overt political message.
Well thank you very much. And there we end this edition of forum. This is an E.R. the national educational radio network.
Special of the week
Issue 26-71 "Theatre - London & New York"
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