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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Tynan
Arts Theatre Spring 2005

This solo show features a personable actor portraying an important and colourful theatrical figure. And it is almost wholly unnecessary.

In the 1950s Kenneth Tynan was one of Britain's most insightful and influential theatre critics. In the 1960s he was literary advisor to the National Theatre, helping shape its repertory. In the 1970s he turned to freelance writing and produced a number of first-rate magazine pieces, though failing health and recurring writer's block kept him in debt. He died in 1980 of emphysema.

Tynan's diaries, from which this script is drawn, cover only the 1970s, so that at best we are getting glimpses of a man prematurely (He was in his 40s) past his prime. They were edited for publication by John Lahr and further adapted for this show by Richard Nelson (who also directed) and Colin Chambers.

The editing is not neutral. Decisions were made that shape and further reduce the value of the portrait we are given. Naturally enough, all the sex stuff is kept in, and some might find it mildly titillating. Every reference to the death of a friend is included, producing, along with the accounts of his own failing health, the false sense that Tynan was obsessed with death.

While there are colourful anecdotes of such theatrical figures as John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, Tynan's comments on Laurence Olivier have been edited to leave only the most angry and contemptuous. And virtually no mention is made of his writing during the period.

The result is a portrait of a prematurely aged and elegiac man of no discernable talent or importance, which may indeed be part of who Tynan was in the 1970s, but only one of the least interesting parts.

Corin Redgrave portrays Tynan, and to call the staging untheatrical is an understatement. He merely sits in a swivel chair and speaks the words.

Redgrave makes no attempt whatever to imitate Tynan - there are none of the man's mannerisms, no stutter and not even the ever-present cigarette.  His one concession to performance is a curious tic of phrasing, papering over the cut-and-paste quality of the script by rushing from one bit to the next in the same breath, so that repeatedly what seems like the last sentence of one item turns out to be the beginning of the next.

Inevitably there are some gems in the stream-of-consciousness - a funny account of a holiday-from-hell, a striking insight into the sociology of American car washes, the portrait of a man who was actually surprised when his wife did not approve of his having a long-term mistress. And Corin Redgrave is an amiable figure, in whose company you are happy to spend 90 minutes.

But, all in all, you're better off reading the book.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - Tynan - Arts 2005