Friday, November 24, 2017

My cupboard: when the rubbish folder yields up an historical bomb!

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My father did his PhD thesis on George Bernard Shaw. At Vienna University in the 1930s when said gentleman was still living, writing and proseltysing. In consequence, I grew up with a blotch of, not quite all of, Shaw's plays on my bedroom-study bookcase (father had progressed to sterner stuff after college days, and they had come down to me). I, being avid read them all. I, being even aged ten, a laddie of mine own mind, influenced not at all by 'fame', only really enjoyed two. Androcles and the Lion and Arms and the Man. Pygmalion was OK, I cam round for a while to St Joan, but Major Barbara was just silly, Man and Superman pompous, Caesar and Cleopatra dull, The Doctor's Dilemma and Candida quick closes, John Bull's Other Island incomprehensible, and even though A Black Girl in Search of God was a pretty cellophane-covered edition, I gave it up after just a few pages. I went back to the less talky Bronte, Scott, Ainsworth and Hoofbeats.

I avoided all things Shavian, thereafter, through my education (apart from Singing 'Wouldn't It be loverly' in a school concert) and have got on very nicely with very small doses of his works since. Penelope Keith made Captain Brassbound's Conversion into a fun evening (of which I remember nothing else), Oscar Straus made a delightful musical out of Arms and the Man, just as Fritz Loewe did of Pygmalion ... but that was more or less it, except in the line of duty. So I had barely heard of Misalliance. Apparently with reason. It was produced at the Duke of York's Theatre in February 1910, labelled 'Three Hours of Talk' and vanished into the repertoires of the more pretentious in double quick time.

Change of topic. When I bought some designs, some time in the 1980s, there were a few oddities which clearly didn't belong in the box, interleaved with my purchases. Some unlabelled, some unsigned, but one -- to my delight -- autographed 'Wilhelm'. The great designer. And I didn't have a Wilhelm. It was an odd piece, though. A chap in an airman's suit and goggles. The Arcadians maybe? Never mind. It was a Wilhelm. Back in the box.


Today I pulled it out again, and noticed a pencilled inscription on the back. Misalliance. Shaw? So I looked in the 1910 newspapers ... yes, Misalliance, starring Florence Haydon, produced by .. who? Granville Barker? with whom? Why can I barely find a mention of this play and its production? I have merely managed to find that the person who did the most talking during the three acts played the role of -- yes! -- a Ruritanian circus acrobat who arrives in a plane. So it's not a man. This is the design for the costume for the Repertory Theatre's original Lina Szczepanowka. Which I finally discover was played by Lena Ashwell.

Oh well, its a delicious drawing. And I suppose to Shaw groupies (I see they still exist) and devotees of the Barker system and all that swam in it, it has more than a little interest and significance. So I am putting it on the worldwide web so that anyone who wishes may copy it, and use or publish it. And it would be nice if they did so, if they said the original belongs to me. Well, for now, anyhow. Tenders are open.

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