Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tambourine players of the world unite

I've always been fascinated by the people on the margins of big events, the observers, the sidemen. Maybe it's because the first proper, grown-up play I saw was Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, well before I ever read Hamlet. My favourite poem is The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock; my favourite novel is Vile Bodies. All are about people who look on as big stuff happens, beyond their influence, and almost - but not quite - beyond their comprehension.

Sheridan Morley, who died last week, was a man who spent most of his life writing about the theatre. Even when he created his own shows, they were made up of bits of other people's stuff. I'm sure his was a full and satisfying life, but I couldn't help noticing that the bulk of his Telegraph obituary was taken up with his own recollections about other people's (Coward, Olivier, Gielgud, et al) witticisms. Patiently waiting in the wings, Dictaphone at hand, Morley seems to fade into the shadows, even in what should be his big send-off. Boswell to a hundred Johnsons, he lives on only as a medium for everyone else's one-liners.

"Once, crossing Leicester Square, Morley and Coward saw a poster for an adventure movie starring Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde entitled The Sea Shall Not Have Them. 'I fail to see why not,' Coward remarked. 'Everybody else has.'"

Wonder if he'd collected any amusing aperçus about Iraq...

10 comments:

Murph said...

Perhaps he's dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free? Probably not.

First Nations said...

so reflected glory was good enough. thats an interesting comment on one's own life isn't it?

realdoc said...

'Like a patient etherised upon a table' always liked that bit.

M.A.Peel said...

I just read that Coward quip in an old article about Peter O'Toole. He is up for an Oscar this weekend for his performance in Venus. What does the hometown think about his chances?

Tim Footman said...

Wot no anonymous posters?

Murph: You've got a lot of nerve...

FN: Or on blogging...

Doc: And I always wear my trousers rolled.

Miss Peel: I think Forest W's going to get it, if all the critics are on the money. I don't think the Brits mind that much because: a) Dame Helen, also a national treasure, has the Best Actress gong sewn up; and b) I think it's rather appropriate that O'Toole (and Burton and Harris and Reed and Finney and that whole generation) will end up unrewarded, because it places them somewhere on the edge of things, never properly accepted, vagabonds to the last.

I presume the article referred to 'Florence of Arabia'?

St. Anthony said...

Fascinating subject, that ... the Boswells of the world. There's a wonderful Mark E. Smith lyric (from 'Hexen Definitive'),"It takes grace to play the second fiddle well".
Yes, one of Eliot's great themes ... Prufrock being a fine example, realising he was never meant to be Hamlet. One of the greatest poems, such a wonderful piece of work.
Kerouac, too ... so many people identify him with the prime movers in his books, but he is usually the guy observing from the sidelines ... after all, they are the people who have the distance and reflection to write it down and turn it into art, not the Neil Cassady types.

But do you dare to eat a peach?

M.A.Peel said...

Tim--FOA, absolutely. St. Anthony, one huge exception to the Boswell is T.E.Lawrence. His Seven Pillars of Wisdom is an extraordinary literary work about his own exploits. When you are in the right mood, it is compelling reading.

Tim Footman said...

To bring things full circle, Lawrence (or O'Toole) wrote about his own exploits, placing himself at the centre of the narrative, but at the same time assisted the mythology of his outsiderness.

I think what I'm looking at is a variant on the classic existential outsider that we see in Doestoevsky, Camus, Sartre. These people aren't snarling at society. They're part of society, are accepted as such, even function perfectly well within it. But they feel dislocated, ill at ease - aware that something's not quite right, but they can't quite put a finger on it. Nicholas Jenkins, in A Dance To The Music Of Time, there's another one. Armchair Etrangers, maybe? The existential wing of the Liberal Democrats?

realdoc said...

That phrase in Keep the Aspidistra Flying about inside every fat person is a thin person trying to get out always struck me. Orwell in general is great at dislocation.

Billy said...

R&G is much better if you know Hamlet, but it still works on its own.

I like the idea of people rewriting stories from different points of view: take Wide Sargasso Sea for example with the first Mrs Rochester.

I'd rather be on the sidelines of something interesting then in the middle of something boring.