Harry Kessler

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

(L-R) Ludmilla Pitoëff, Georges Pitoëff and Marcel Herrand in Orphée in 1926, via https://cocteau.biu-montpellier.fr

(L-R) Ludmilla Pitoëff, Georges Pitoëff and Marcel Herrand in Orphée in 1926, via https://cocteau.biu-montpellier.fr

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 303

Production: Jean Cocteau, Orphée, Théâtre des Arts, Paris, 15 June 1926

Text: First night of Cocteau’s Orphée, under Pitoeff’s direction, at the Théâtre des Arts. Tickets costs a hundred francs each (the same as for the Russian Ballet) and the audience was the usual smart and international et, including many Americans, British, and even Japanese. The play, which the Serts have long praised as a masterpiece, disappointed me. I thought it fumbling, neither true tragedy nor true comedy. Its focal point is an impossible, unintentionally funny figure of an angel (calculated appeal to the fashionably Catholic trend of taste). The part is played by a revoltingly mawkish, effeminate young man who appears to have escaped from some dreadful hairdresser’s. This sugary youth completely spoiled my taste for a production which was not improved by the fact of Mme Piteoff being once again far gone in pregnancy, a detail lending the part of Eurydice a touch of the grotesque. I was so ruffled that I quickly took myself off after the performance, greeting neither Cocteau nor the Serts.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Jean Cocteau‘s Orphée had its debut at the Théâtre des Arts (now the Théâtre Hébertot) in Paris on 15 June 1926. It was directed by Georges Pitoëff (who also played Orphée). His wife Ludmilla played Eurydice. The ‘angel’ Heurtebise was played by Marcel Herrand. The Serts were the artist Josep Maria Sert and his pianist wife Misia. Most sources say that the play had its premiere on 17 June.

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 257

Production: Noël Coward, The Vortex, Comedy Theatre, London, 19 March 1925

Text: Saw Noel Coward’s Vortex at the Comedy Theatre. He also plays the lead, a young drug addict. A very powerful piece. Coward’s performance is superb. With shattering realism yet masterly restraint, and no cheap tricks, he acts the tragedy on the son of a vain, pleasure-seeking, thoroughly depraved and heartless beautiful woman. The ending, though, is inconclusive because there is in fact no way out of the situation.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Noël Coward‘s controversial play The Vortex originally opened at the Everyman on 25 November 1924, transferring later to the Royalty and then the Comedy.

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 352

Production: William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Berliner Theatre, Berlin, 27 October 1928

Text: Saw Reinhardt’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Berliner Theatre. An incredible muddle. So much intellect and so many bright ideas that the upshot is an inferior provincial performance. A Palladian setting, with Juliet’s bedroom in the courtyard between screens and the balcony scene acted backstage so that Romeo’s words are totally inaudible and Juliet’s nearly so. Dreadful. At one point, during Juliet’s duologue with the Nurse, the audience broke into loud laughter. Elisabeth Bergner and the Nurse, greatly upset, rushed offstage between the screens and an interminable pause followed, with the house lights left down, while presumably Juliet was being soothed by some manager or other in the wings. The production had an icy reception, except from an obvious claque. At the end the real members of the public, including those in the more expensive seats left without applauding. Young Franz Lederer and Elisabeth Bergner make a handsome pair (he bears a striking resemblance to Byron), but that is all the performance has to offer.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Kessler saw Max Reinhardt‘s production of Romeo and Juliet starring Elisabeth Bergner and Franz Lederer, at the Berliner Theatre, Berlin, on 27 October 1928.

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Alcestis being performed at Pompeii, Illustrated London News, 28 May 1927

Alcestis being performed at Pompeii, Illustrated London News, 28 May 1927

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 315

Production: Euripides, Alcestis, Odeon theatre, Pompeii, 12 May 1927

Text: During the morning the usual tour of Pompeii, but in the afternoon, starting at half past four, we saw the first performance that has taken place for two thousand years in the ancient theatre: Euripides’ Alcestis, in Italian. A very fine and in parts (especially the first half) very harrowing production. The strangely obscure personality of Admetus perhaps defies (like that of Hamlet) the range of any actor. The play’s stupendous boldness of imagination and genius nevertheless remains as fresh as ever. There is a romantic, Shakespearian quality too in the structure of the work, with its compound of tragic and comic elements. And finally, as is the case with Shakespeare, the spectator is left with the feeling that the human soul is a riddle to which events, situations, and catastrophes occasionally supply clues without revealing its ultimate springs of inspiration.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Euripides‘ fifth-century BC play Alcestis was performed in the Odeon theatre at Pompeii. The production was directed (and translated) by Ettore Romagnoli, with Letizia Celli playing Alcestis.

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), p. 388

Production: William Shakespeare, Othello, Savoy Theatre, London, 24 May 1930

Text: Saturday, 24 May 1930, London

In the evening saw Othello at the Savoy Theatre, with Paul Robeson as Othello, Maurice Brown as Iago, Sybil Thorndike as Emilia, and a strikingly pretty and attractive young actress, Peggy Ashcroft, as Desdemona. Apart from her and Robeson, who was a dignified, passionate Othello, it is a moderately successful production. The casting of the smaller parts like Cassio, Rodrigo, Brabantio, and the Duke is comically inadequate and reminiscent of smaller German municipal theatres. The Weimar National Theatre is on the whole a better company and, seeing that it would have done quite well in comparison with this Othello performance, I am now less surprised that Brown should have thought of bringing it to London, His own rendering of Iago was presentable but average.

The Savoy Theatre has just been rebuilt and is regarded as the most modern in London. Nevertheless the revolving stage, or some other backstage machinery, creaked loudly during the most tragic scenes between Othello and Desdemona and Emilia and Desdemona, ruining the tension. The auditorium is modern is the less complimentary sense of the term, constructed in a style which in Germany we have nearly outgrown, all tinsel and meaningless ‘modern’ ornaments appropriate to a third-rate bar, the way that we built ten years ago. Theatre architecture in London and Paris is half a generation behind Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany, and documents visits to many European cities. He saw the American black actor Paul Robeson in Othello at the Savoy Theatre, London, 24 May 1930.