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Thread: Do3 - The Chalk Garden

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    Default Do3 - The Chalk Garden

    Sun 13 at 8pm:

    Enid Bagnold, eh! Don't know what to make of this well-known (but not to me) play of 1955.

    "It is the mid-1950s. In a Sussex country house, the elderly Mrs St Maugham lives with her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Though without references, Miss Madrigal becomes the paid companion to Laurel. Only when The Judge visits does the truth unravel. The production is introduced by the director, Michael Grandage."

    This appears to be a radio adaptation of Michael Grandage's 2008 production for the Donmar Warehouse (same three leading actors Tyzack-Wilton-Jones).

    Michael Billington's stage review here.

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    I thought this was a good listen. Even though the outcome of the action, as far as any character was concerned, did not seem to matter much (and indeed the ending was ambiguous) it was a good study of character with sharp dialogue with repartee that gave the drama pace. It seemed, in the way that all the drama was concentrated in the dialogue, a throwback to a play by Shaw or perhaps Bagnold's near contemporary Rattigan (currently enjoying success at the West End). I thought all the voices were good and I've long admired Tyzack and Wilton as character actors. I would have liked to have seen the stage play, damned with faint praise in Billington's review.

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    I thought it delightfully bizarre, eccentric, and great fun. I totally misplaced Bagnold, though, who I thought of as one of the Oxford crowd of blue stockings like Dorothy Sayers and Enid Starkie.

    Grandage's comments were helpful at the beginning. The symbolism of the chalk garden worked, both as symbol and source of entertaining lines and situations. Excellent performances all round. I found the pedalian sound effects a bit overdone and distracting but they were a reminder of a stage production with the slightly heightened, larger than life deliveries. Some lovely touches of humour throughout keeping a balance with the more serious aspects.

    Overall, I was very pleased to have been introduced to this classic.

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    Listening to Tyzack's performance as Mrs St Maugham made me think about the persistence of the 'grande dame' as a feature of English literature at least in the C19 and first part of the C20: Lady Catherine de Burgh in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Havisham in Great Expectations, Lady Bracknell in Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Caroline Benaresque in Saki, Aunt Agatha in the Jeeves stories, perhaps even the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts in the Alice stories - I'm sure there are other examples. Is this a peculiarly English phenomenon or do grande-dames feature in other literatures ( at least there is the Countess in Pushkin's Queen of Spades)?

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    Edith Wharton's House of Mirth has a grande dame or two among the New York uppercrust of which Lily Bart runs afoul. Lily's Aunt Peniston would certainly be one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aeolium View Post
    the persistence of the 'grande dame' as a feature of English literature at least in the C19 and first part of the C20: ... Is this a peculiarly English phenomenon or do grande-dames feature in other literatures ( at least there is the Countess in Pushkin's Queen of Spades)?
    I think it must be a fairly widespread phenomenon - certainly it is there in French literature - the terrifying duchesses and princesses who recur in Balzac's Comédie Humaine, the ghastly Mme Verdurin and further terrifying duchesses and princesses in Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu
    ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by marthe View Post
    Edith Wharton's House of Mirth has a grande dame or two among the New York uppercrust of which Lily Bart runs afoul. Lily's Aunt Peniston would certainly be one.
    Sure...and don't forget Pauline Manford in Twilight Sleep. What about Henry James? The widow in The Spoils of Poynton comes to mind.

    I thought the first two-thirds of the drama were much more enjoyably-paced than the last...the characters unfolded nicely, but suddenly everything went a little frantic and abrupt. Well-acted, but the characters themselves were a tad over the top. Although I don't suppose I did my nerves any favour by switching on immediately after finishing "The Pumpkin Eater" with Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft. Did anyone ever see that one? Whew...talk about emotionally draining. Oh well, a nice evening in all the same.

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    Quote Originally Posted by french frank View Post
    Sun 13 at 8pm:
    "It is the mid-1950s. In a Sussex country house, the elderly Mrs St Maugham lives with her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Though without references, Miss Madrigal becomes the paid companion to Laurel. Only when The Judge visits does the truth unravel.
    Strange name. I wonder if this is the inspiration for Armistead Maupin's Anna Madrigal in his Tales of the City series. When her 'truth unravelled' it caused quite a stir

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    What an extraordinary play!

    The acting was absolutely first class. The subtlety of phrasing exquisite, the pace was so beatifully controlled, and the diction to die for. It was the speed and elusiveness of ideas that really kept the concentration going, the cleverness of it all, and very funny in places. Unforgettable. One of the great surprises of radio listening recently. What a treat!

    And oh yes, 'The Pumpkin Eater', undiluted intensity. Bancroft conveyed tragic knowledge. Pretty rare to get such sustained performamnces on film.

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    Vivid memories of the original production of "The Chalk Garden" at the Haymarket Theatre in the mid 50s. Edith Evans played Mrs St Maugham, although she'd fixed her mind on the role of Miss Madrigal, enigmatically portrayed by Peggy Ashcroft. And Felix Aylmer was born to play The Judge who stilled the theatre when he told Ms Madrigal that he couldn't recall her trial before him for murder. Not so long ago, I transferred an off-air video to DVD of the 1964 film version, directed by Ronald Neame, with the Dame playing her original role and Deborah Kerr as Miss Madrigal. The stylised dialogue and the symbolism rather lost its way on screen and the change of emphasis to the wayward grandchild, Laurel, and Ms Madrigal didn't help either but it's still good to have a reminder of the Evans assumption of hauteur! After recording last Sunday's R3 first rate broadcast, I've spent this week delving into Enid Bagnold's, Autobiography,(sic) (1969 Heinemann) and the front page portrait of EB by Walter Sickert tells all. She writes forthrightly about the nightmarish rehearsals for the Broadway production when Gladys Cooper in the out-of-town try outs found her character totally elusive and relations between the author and actress reached a frigid state of stalemate. EB dreaded attendance at the first night performance in New York and was astounded at the complete metamorphosis she witnessed. Ms Cooper not only had total command of the lines, she also nuanced every phrase with understanding and mined the comedic element in the sophistry of the dialogue. She replaced the Dame, in London, when she went on holiday for a few weeks and this provided an early experience for me of a standing ovation from an audience. Happy memories, indeed.

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