e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Theatre”

Poetry goes political

Two shortlisted poets have pulled out of the T S Eliot prize because the sponsor is an investment firm and hence rampantly capitalist.

The prize money comes from the Eliot family, but the administration costs don’t. Until now the Poetry Book Society has used money from the Arts Council, but that’s gone with the cuts and they’ve had to seek support elsewhere.

There’s a long history of people in the arts supporting left-wing causes and making relevant protests. Most of the publicity has gone to actors: I can recall Marlon Brando refusing an award, and Jane Fonda making her mark as an activist. There have been many others.

There have also been a few right-wing actors – John Wayne and Charlton Heston spring most readily to my mind. During their careers they often played right-wing roles.

Thinking about this made me wonder about the relationship between an actor’s opinions and the roles played. Did Wayne et al start out on the right and choose parts accordingly, or were their political opinions formed by the films they made?

I know of no research into this relationship. Are actors changed by what they play? Are they aware of it? Does the current script cancel out the effects of the last one? Would a year spent playing Hamlet make one mad?

‘The Mousetrap’ on the move

So The Mousetrap is about to be 60 years old, setting yet more records and opening a new chapter in its life-history by going on tour.

I saw it in London years ago and I can understand why it’s so popular. Even though I know ‘the secret’ of the end, I might see it again during the tour.

Agatha Christie remains one of the Queens of Crime and her work is still everywhere – books, plays, TV, film you name it. She’s been analysed, criticised, translated (second only to Shakespeare in this apparently) and made into a character in others’ stories. She even had an episode of Doctor Who.

My favourite Christie appearance is as a child in Author, Author by David Lodge. This is a fictionalised account of Henry James, with whose life she just overlapped. In a short and delightful scene, the ageing James, holidaying in Torquay, meets the 5-year-old Agatha riding her tricycle on the front.

The episode isn’t a vital part of the plot, but it’s one of the things I remember best about the book. There’s no evidence that it happened – but it could have. It ought to have. Life is full of lovely coincidences, why not this one?

For me these little vignettes are among the most liberating features of literature. Fiction writers and readers are the freest people around – free to make history what it should be, to hijack the dead and give them chunks of extra life (see Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde series for an example), free to ignore things that don’t make a good story.

The Mousetrap is a good story – one of the best. That’s the main reason it’s still setting records.

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