Tuesday, June 3, 2014


In a letter to the Farnham, Haslemere & Hindhead Herald, dated 15 July 1899, Bernard Shaw expressed his opinions on a recent open-air production of As You Like It by a group of amateur actors "in Sir Frederick Pollock's woods on Hindhead." 

The production had received a great deal of critical acclaim; in fact, Shaw himself acknowledged that he had "seen all the parts worse done at one time or another by professional actors at first-rate London theatres."

However - here's where Shaw is at his best - since Shaw believes the players may repeat the effort "under the very erroneous impression that their last attempt cannot be improved upon," he decides to "venture a word of criticism."

Without getting into the details, what leads to the above quotation is the fact that an "able professional in all the arts tries to conceal the artificiality of the technical processes he is forced to employ." In the case of this production, things were quite the opposite. Instead of making the most of the natural scenery to avoid any sense of artificiality, "I hastened to the place of performance, and behold - a cottage piano! My heart sank! 

And, of course, "everybody wore tights" - "it is impossible to persuade an amateur that he is acting unless he has tights on." The lack of verisimilitude of such garment is blatant, for "it may be obvious to any gamekeeper that no man could possibly face the wear and weather of a forest life and keep his voice, or for the matter of that his life, without good boots, breeches, and buckskin."

Deverell Walter Howard A Scene from As You Like It

This introductory - and, I hope, amusing - bit is but one of the many cases in which the theatricality of tights is derisively mocked by Shaw. For example, in London Music in 1888-9 as Heard by Corno di Bassetto (Later Known as Bernard Shaw), Shaw complains about Mr Augustus Harris's "attachment to the tradition of the operatic stage" as an impresario

"The English nation, among whom I am a councillor, no longer supposes that attitudinizing is acting. Neither would I have you suppose that all amative young men wear dove-colored tights, and have pink cheeks with little moustaches. Nor is it the case that all men with grown-up daughters have long white beards reaching to the waist, or that they walk totteringly with staves, raising hands and eyes to heaven whenever they offer an observation." (p. 99)

In the same book, we find another article complaining about the stereotyped use of tights and other items of clothing for the costume of Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. 

"For example, there is only one costume possible for the Count di Luna. He must wear a stiff violet velvet tunic, white satin tights, velvet shoes, and a white turban hat, with a white puggaree falling on a white cloak. No other known costume can remove its wearer so completely from common humanity. No man could sit down in such a tunic and such tights; for the vulgar realism of sitting down is ten times more impossible for the Count di Luna than for the Venus of Milo." (p. 381)

On a completely different note, did you know that the famous tower from which Leonora listened to Manrico's serenades actually exists? In the picture below, it is the quadrangular tower with the flags atop it. The legend of "El Trovador" was first turned into a romantic melodrama by Antonio García Gutiérrez - and later adapted and improved on by Giuseppe Verdi.  I wonder if any of them ever wore tights?

Zaragoza Aljaferia

No comments:

Post a Comment