Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1
  Opened 18 March, 2009

Corin Redgrave’s return to the stage since his 2005 heart attack has been gradual; only now (and buffeted also by the news of his niece Natasha Richardson’s grave injury) is he essaying a two-week run of a full-length-ish play. (In fact it clocks in at about one hour and 40 minutes including interval.) Redgrave and co-star Nick Waring keep scripts in hand as they deliver extracts from the life and letters of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Even “on the book”, Redgrave sounds hesitant and uncertain at many moments, but he seeks to turn such phrasing into part of his characterisation, so that his Trumbo’s diffident, sometimes even slightly camp manner of speech contrasts with the fiery, pugnacious sentiments he is expressing.
For Trumbo was never a man to take the easy way. (According to his son Christopher, who compiled this play and who is portrayed onstage by Waring, he would quarrel even with being described as contentious.) On standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, he became one of the “Hollywood Ten”, the first to be blacklisted by the studios. The family moved to Mexico for several years, Trumbo continuing to write screenplays which were submitted pseudonymously. One of the play’s most poignant sections is a letter written to the mother of one of his screenwriting “fronts” who had died in the interim; one of its most triumphant is the report that the 1956 Best Story Oscar was won by someone who did not exist, for Trumbo’s screenplay of The Brave One.
Director John Dove cannily stages the piece as a recitation/reading. While Redgrave delivers Trumbo’s words from the centre of a stage stacked with box files and backed by a huge montage of images from various Trumbo-scripted movies, Waring stands off to one side, following the script, sometimes moving his lips slightly as if reading the same words to himself. The play is co-produced by Corin and Vanessa Redgrave’s company Moving Theatre, many of whose productions have been tributes to radical figures from history. (I particularly remember Corin Redgrave’s own performance as Sir Roger Casement in 1995.) This production, though, is in practice as much a celebration and welcome back to its principal performer as it is a commemoration of its ostensible subject.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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