1942: Robert Do­nat and his mod­ern take on Shake­speare

The Herald - - OPINION -

RUS­SELL LEADBETTER

ROBERT Do­nat had al­ready built up an ex­cel­lent rep­u­ta­tion through his stage and screen work – in­clud­ing, of course, the films The 39 Steps and Good­bye, Mr Chips, for which he won an Os­car – by the time he ap­peared at Glas­gow’s The­atre Royal in Au­gust 1942.

In Veron­ica Haigh’s To Dream Again, the three-cen­turies-dead Shake­speare, played by Do­nat, comes back to earth.

“Miss Haigh’s Shake­speare,” wrote our the­atre critic, “comes trail­ing clouds nei­ther of glory nor of mys­tery. He might be any longdead ac­tor primed with Shake­spearean quo­ta­tions ...

“Mr Do­nat is more suc­cess­ful. He ap­pears first of all along with Fran­cis Ba­con, clad in El­iz­a­bethan dress ... Com­ing down to Eng­land at the time of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, he takes the guise of a Dane, re­tain­ing the auburn beard, but suf­fer­ing the torture of a stiff brown lounge suit.”

The play made much ado with the Bard’s “ig­no­rance of mod­ern cus­toms, speech, and sci­ence”, and pre­sented him as a comic fig­ure.

“Even in a solemn and pre­pos­ter­ous pow-wow with a psy­chol­o­gist in a prison cell, Mr Do­nat can­not dis­guise the hu­mour in poor Will’s predica­ment ... [he] makes all he can of the com­edy, while sug­gest­ing that there is a good deal of the roast beef of Old Eng­land in his port.”

Do­nat is pic­tured above dur­ing a scene with A.e.matthews and Mary Jer­rold.

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