Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wicked Wit

In Dak’s Weekend Trivia, featured on twitter account @101Kennedy on Saturday (March 17), I dipped into the wealth of witty one-liners, which have peppered the history of the British theatre.

This one was actress Hermione Gingold’s famous bon mot, Olivier
was a tour-de-force but Wolfit was forced to tour, which dates back to the 1930s.

It came about because Donald Wolfit, later Sir Donald, had decided to finance his own tour of the British provinces after the Shakespeare Memorial Company had refused to bankroll him.

While  Laurence Olivier, later Lord Olivier,  was the toast of the classical British Shakespearian stage winning hearts and minds at the Old Vic, which would eventually become the National Theatre.

Gingold had a witty disposition, as other quips such as, ‘I have tried everything but incest and folk dancing,’ and ‘I suppose I shall drop dead in the theatre, to a full house, I hope,’ attest.

The Wolfit crack belongs to what, I consider, to be a long British tradition of Wicked Wit, which has both coloured and enhanced commentary and even at times critiquing.

Although it seems a long way from the Australian stage in the 21st century, I decided to offer this bit of trivia as a reaction to some of the comments which we see today in everything from reviews to social networking.

I fear (sometimes) that in bid to be tight, shiny and hip or cool, we are in danger of loosing sight of composition. On the one hand reviewers are binging on terms like ‘masterpiece’ and ‘genius’, while other forms of expression are just down right insulting.

I saw three seperate advertisements in the review section of a national newspaper recently where the marketing machine had (quite rightly) plucked the word ‘masterpiece’ from a review, while rubbishing maybes, couldbes, wannabes and allmosts at award nights, on twitter, has become de rigueur.

Harking back to the past, I would conclude with two favourite examples of seemingly Wicked Wit, which maybe not turn out to be as bad as they first appear.

My Fair Lady’s first and, best, Professor Higgins, Rex Harrison, seemed affable enough from a distance, but had a reputation for being rude and even down right obnoxious.

His co-star, Stanley Holloway (Doolittle), emerged from the London theatre where the show was playing only to see a little old lady who had been waiting to get Harrison’s autograph in the pouring rain being told to, ‘Sod off.’

Rather then simply slipping away, having been suitably dismissed, she took affirmative action and began beating the star over the head with her umbrella.

“Ah a first,” quipped Holloway. “The fan hitting the shit.”

Then there’s the classic encounter – one of many – between painter James Whistler and the irrepressible Oscar Wilde where Wilde responded to a Whistler quip with, “I wish I’d said that,” and Whistler retorted, “You will, Oscar, you will.”

I can’t knock that because in this article my humble words are simply the vehicle transporting other entertaining observations and, if you’ve enjoyed this piece, that’s thanks to them.


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