As you know I tend not to do weekly or other regular bookish memes, but here’s a spin on one I couldn’t resist, especially as it related to Lory’s prompt Reading the Theatre. It’s posed by Helen of She Reads Novels and this is how she introduced her recent post:
“This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is “Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had”. As Jana says we can put our own unique spin on each topic and as I wanted to join in with Lory’s Reading the Theatre month, I have chosen ten characters who have jobs connected with acting and the theatre. These are not all jobs I would like to have myself, but some of them sound fun!”
So, without much further ado here’s my take on Helen’s take; quotes (with links) are from my reviews.
1. Participating member of the audience
In Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf the outsider Harry Haller comes across a sign saying MAGIC THEATRE: ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY. Though he doesn’t yet know it he will eventually participate in a unique theatre performance; for now, though,
“the Steppenwolf sees reflected on the road surface the words FOR MADMEN ONLY! Is he mad enough to be admitted? Apparently not just yet, for he has to make a further journey through ‘the labyrinth of Chaos’ before he can partake in the Anarchist Evening Entertainment later promised him.”
I’d dearly like to cite two children’s books here, beginning with Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree in which the climax involves the mannikin puppets of a villain coming alive during a coronation in St Paul’s Cathedral while dastardly plans proceed to roll the building down the hill into the Thames. But instead I’ll limit myself to just Diana Wynne Jones’s The Magicians of Caprona which similarly involves puppets, this time belonging to the Duke of Caprona. One of the threads in the novel
“concerns the Punch and Judy puppet theatre. Originally the show was based on Italian Commedia dell’Arte marionettes, but in England evolved into the glove puppet version; in Jones’ alternate world fiction the glove puppets have become familiar in Italy, and the Duke of Caprona’s childish obsession with this miniature world is employed to great effect, both in the plot and in its metaphorical guises.”
Dodie Smith’s novel It Ends with Revelations concerns the mystery of an individual’s sexuality, all set against the changing attitudes in 1960s Britain. Jill is married to Miles Quentin who is starring in a provincial play; we also meet a bitchy director and a two-faced agent, a young playwright and a local MP, along with the latter’s daughters.
“Like a stage play It Ends with Revelations is essentially in two acts with several scenes: Act I is largely set in a Regency spa town where a theatre adaptation of a TV play is being given a provincial run before a hoped-for transfer to the West End; Act II takes place mostly in London with a brief excursion to darkest Essex, and features those anticipated revelations.”
The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin is the first of his Gervase Fen crime mysteries and features a disparate cast of actors, a police inspector and an idiosyncratic academic.
“It is October 1940 and a number of individuals are travelling from London to Oxford (“the City of Screaming Choirs”) to rehearse and then perform a play called Metromania at an Oxford theatre. However, during the week of rehearsals a particularly obnoxious actor, Yseut Haskell, is shot and killed in an undergraduate’s rooms in St Christopher’s College.”
(Helen, incidentally, chose a 6th-century actress called Theodora who rose to become a Byzantine Empress and the wife of Justinian the Great. She had trained as an actress, dancer and acrobat but, as their contemporary Procopius wrote in his The Secret History, they were a singularly unpleasant pair.)
5. An inadvertent luminary
E Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet features as a climax a 1902 theatrical performance of Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies in which the accident-prone Phoenix causes mayhem when he gets overexcited, setting fire to the theatre: it’s not the first time he causes mishap:
“From that first Guy Fawkes Night through the rebirth of the Phoenix from the flames, the setting alight of an increasingly frayed carpet and a visit to the Phoenix Fire Office in Lombard Street we arrive at the potentially catastrophic conflagration at the Garrick Theatre.”
6. The ‘resting’ actor
‘Till September Petronella’ is an autobiografictional short story by Jean Rhys about an out-of-work actress who is
“a thinly disguised version of the writer, confirmed by the fact that Ella was one of Rhys’s forenames. She is a model and former actress, living in digs in Bloomsbury, invited for the summer to join three others in a rented cottage in the Gloucestershire countryside. But it turns out to be a poisonous ménage, a hotbed of jealousy and misogyny.”
7. A child actor
Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea takes us from Europe to South America where, in the famous Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil, young put-upon Maia meets a child actor who will have a significant influence on her life: he is
“Clovis King, a stage name, borrowed from the first monarch who united Gaul after the fall of the Western Roman Empire; he comes to the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus to play Little Lord Fauntleroy, a significant role and a significant name too: Clovis is called on to play the part of a missing young milord, while ‘Fauntleroy’ suggests the derivation enfant le roi, ‘the child king’.”
8. A music hall star
Paul Dempster is the focus of the third volume of Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy called World of Wonders. As the illusionist Magnus Eisengrim he recounts his career from the moment Ramsay the narrator clumsily attempts to teach him card tricks to the time a BBC documentary producer plans a retrospective.
“As the theatre of the Great War made the greatest impression in Fifth Business on Ramsay’s thinking, and the theatre of the mind on Staunton in The Manticore, other theatres dominate World of Wonders. These include the desperate life of carnival people in early 20th-century sideshows and vaudeville, the more salubrious life of a theatre company in repertory and on tour, the private shows that the wealthy could create with automata, and domestic entertainments which viewers were able to enjoy through their television sets.”
9. Aspiring actors
In Robertson Davies’ Tempest-Tost, the first of his Salterton Trilogy, we have a full cast of aspiring Canadian actors being directed by a real professional in a performance of a Shakespeare play:
“In the middle of the 20th century The Little Theatre company, an amateur group, is attempting to put on an open air pastoral of The Tempest, unaware that they are as much the dramatis personae in a real-life play as the characters they are hoping to portray.”
10. Drama teacher
Helen chose Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood for her entry under this final heading (a novel which is on my TBR pile) all about a theatre director who gets a new job “teaching drama and literacy to the prisoners at Fletcher Correctional, directing them in a production of The Tempest.” Instead of her drama teacher I’m going for a real-life academic, D G James, who lectured on this very same play with his talks published as The Dream of Prospero. In the 1960s James discussed not just the nature of illusion and magic in Shakespeare’s play but
“was able to draw on recently published academic studies to reinforce and expand on the accepted view that Shakespeare not only drew on contemporary reports of voyages to the New World but was also acquainted directly or indirectly with some of the principal participants in expeditions to colonise Virginia.”
I can’t say I’ve been as adventurous with my selections as Helen, but then I didn’t have much variety to select from — but I hope you enjoyed these nevertheless! Would I have any of these jobs? Er, probably no, but as I like pontificating perhaps Number Ten would suit me. 🙂