Stage machinery

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.