levity. just as the dark shadow of
disease is its centre of gravity, for love
and cholera. Marquez seems to say, are each infused in the blood.
LOVE AMONG THE DOOR KNOBS
Leader at the Band Fay Weldon (Hodder and Stoughton £10.95). Another Weldon novel ofinternals. which in this case features an unlikeable bitch called Starlady Sandra. Fortunately. she doesn‘t seem to like herself much either, ﬂeeing her fame and her husband for a crass life of sex and rock and roll on the road (in the attic. van, the bed). Spangled with luminous insights (‘Sexual pleasure was both the stimulus and reward for reproduction’). we are treated to a non-stop parade of the Starlady’s neuroses and bents. one of which includes intercourse with a door-handle. And for all the space given to Sandra‘s great lover. the Leader ofthe Band. he might as well have been a door knob too. Ultimately. the explanations for her bizarre self are unbelievable: her father was a Nazi whose sperm was forcefully injected into her mother: ergo Sandra doesn‘t want to reproduce for fear of passing on Nazi genes.
Weldon‘s aptitude for creating unpleasant women who enjoy their own maliciousness is eerie. Why readers devour her books. relishing the confidences ofincessantly spiteful and selfobsessed women is stranger still. The reduction of men to sex machines is. Weldon smoothly explained in a recent interview. fictional revenge for their undeservedly high status in society. In spite of this undressing. ‘The Leader of the Band' is an arch and clever-clever book. ruined by a nauseously irritating narrator-heroine from whose clutches it is impossible to escape. (Kristina Woolnough)
JUST PUBLISHED '
I The National Health: A Radical Perspective David Widgery (Hogarth Press £7.95) Fortieth birthday probe into the mid-life crisis of the NHS.
I Anagrams Lorrie Moore (Faber £3.95) The identity-swopping heroine of this smart novel juggles her multiple lives and ends up catching the wrong balls.
I Underground: The London Alternative Press 1966 - 74 Nigel Fountain (Routledge £6.95). The story of the shock-horror radical rags It. ()2. Styng. Frendz. Ink. et al which affronted public decency. were raided and folded under the pressure ofit all.
I Hotel Bellevue Thomas Shapcott (Black Swan £3.95) Excavation ot the hero's past coincides with the demolition of the aforementioned Brisbane hotel. The knock-on result being that both. physically and/or metaphorically. are razed to the ground.
52 The List 22 July — 4 August 1988
Craig MacDonald, who worked with Lord Olivier at the National Theatre, evaluates Anthony Holden’s portrait of the man and the myth in his new biography.
‘l-arr_v'.’ ()h. he's acting all the time. Right from the start. quoting l.ady ()livier. Joan l’lowright. Anthony llolden. in his biography ()lii'a'r. establishes the enormity ofhis task. Laurence ()livier. the actor and the man. is hard to pin down. When is he acting and when is he being real'.’
Despite a lifetime of achievement and honour. ()livier's life has been punctuated with periods of intense unhappiness. ()ne such moment was his departure from the National Theatre. the company he had created and led from 1962 for nearly a decade. a time ofcritical and public acclaim as well as a (short-lived) period of failure when the company entered a mid-life crisis.
It was an open secret that ()livier was unhappy with the NT Board’s choice of his successor. Peter Hall. ()livier‘s own nominees. among them Michael Blakemore and two more unlikely candidates. Joan l’lowright and Richard Attenborough. had all been rejected.
The announcement of the change ~in administration was about to be made. For weeks the inevitable leaks had been appearing in the press. In an effort to make the transition appear more amicable than the media were indicating. as the company publicist I tried to persuade Olivier to be photographed with Hall. a naive notion on my part given the extent of()livier's feelings.
‘I won't. lwon‘t.‘ The voice started quietly and in a few short seconds exploded in a startling and climactic ‘I WON'T.‘
The technique was the actor‘s; the emotion real. At any rate. the photograph was never taken and the following months produced an uneasy relationship between llall
and ()livier. a discomfort of()livier's making.
But more often than not ()livier's skills as a diplomat were to the fore.
.S'amrday. Sunday. Monday. an English adaptation of [iduardo de Filippo‘s Neapolitan comedy to be directed by Franco Zeffirelli. was widely expected to be a big popular success. The National was fielding one of its strongest ever casts—()livier. l’lowright. Frank Finlay. Denis ()uilley. Anna ('arterct and others.
Rehearsals. however. progressed slowly. Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. the adaptors. had been presented with a flawed English literal translation and its holes had been compounded into their acting version. Asa result. rehearsals fell behind schedule. The actors complained that. although Zeffirelli had staged act one and the final
curtain calls (the latter a shrewd crowd-pleasing bit ofshowbusiness). act two was virtually untouched. The play was in this shape when it reached an early dress rehearsal at the ()ld Vic. Midway through act two the play ground to a halt. Joan Plowright was ‘off‘. not. it seemed. for the first time. Zeffirelli leapt to his feet. left his production desk and team and charged down to the front ofthe stage. shrieking ‘lt's a disaster. Bring down the curtain. Everyone go home.’
In what had been an evening of long pauses there was yet another one. Eventually ()Iivier. his part already completed but the actor still in costume and makeup. came onstage. ‘l‘m sorry. Franco. The actors must finish the play. You can go home.’ Polite but firm.
Zeffirelli and his entourage
departed. the play was completed.
A following day. the actors decided that ()livier should take over the direction of the play for the preview period. Zeffirelli. though not attending rehearsals. would stay on in London and be available for consultation on the Italian aspects of the play.
The result was an astonishing success. The modest comedy was accorded the status of a near classic and won the top theatrical awards of the year.
Days after the opening. ()liy ic't“s eyes caught those ofa visitor in his dressing room mirror. ‘Sometimes there's(iod so suddenly.‘ he said recalling Blanche du Bois‘ line lTOlll/l .S‘Ircelcar Named Desire. a play in which he had directed his second wife. Vivien Leigh. a quarter of a century earlier.
Not too long after Saturday. Sunday. Monday the ( )liyic rs yy erc ol‘fin l’ositano. holidaying with Xefl'irelli. all differences apparently forgotten or ignored.
Mr I lolden's biography fascinatingly covers the key aspects of ()liy'iei"s life. public and personal: the blazing ambition; the early career disappointments and setbacks: the glamorons-seeming but. by most accounts including ()livicr"s own. often tortured marriage to Vivien Leigh; the mix of success and disappointment at the National; and the various relationships with friends and colleagues including his ambivalent one with Kenneth ‘l‘y'nan. Rather unwisely‘ .\lr l lolden toys with the notion ofa homosexual relationship between Tynan and Olivia. a possibility Kathleen Tynan categorically discounts in her rigorous biography" of be r late husband.
llolden’s ()llt-ier is strong on detail. As the book progresses. the anecdotes. many of them familiar to followers of theatrical lore. thin out. Though many National Theatre personalities troupe through the later chapters. this part is short on personal reminiscence. almost as though those interviewed were discreetly saying nothing or. more likely. have their own books to write.
Frank l)unlop. billed here as an associate director. was. in fact. administrative director ofthe company and instrumental for much of the programming and planning. When ()livier was absent for long periods through illness the theatre offices were filled with plot and counterplot. None ofthisappears here. Mr l lolden appezirs to have had little or no access to National
Theatre Board meetings or minutes.
But onstage. where ( )liy'ier rightly
belongs. this is a marvellously entertaining and informative recountingof ()livier's life -warts and all.
() LIV/ER by Anthony Holden is published by ( Weiden/eld A'- Nicolsmt [16)
© 1988 ('raig Macdona/d