[Sir] Tyrone Guthrie (1900-71)


Life
b. Tunbridge Wells, Kent; grandson of Tyrone Power; moved at six months to family home at Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, Co. Monaghan; ed. Wellington and St. John’s Oxford; joined Oxford Playhouse, 1923, and left for BBC, making the first local Northern Ireland broadcast in 1924; served as Director Scottish National Theatre Soc, Glasgow, for two years; also worked with Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC); involved in Festival Theatre, Cambridge, and Westminster Theatre, London; dir. plays for Sadler’s Wells and the Old Vic (London), 1931; appt. Old Vic. director, 1951; directed productions in Australia, England, America, Finland, and Israel;
 
appt. director of the Shakespeare festival at Stratford-on-Avon, Ontario; Director Old Minnosota Classical Theatre, Minneapolis; hon. degrees from QUB, TCD; Chancellor of QUB, 1963-1870; Chairman of Ulster Theatre Council; knighted, 1961; directed Eugene McCabe's play on Swift at the Abbey, with Micheál MacLiammóir in the title role; started a jam factory to provide employment in Newbliss’; writings include Theatre Prospect; Top of the Ladder; In Several Directions: A View of Theatre (1963); and A Life in the Theatre (1960); d. May;
 
Guthrie bequeathed Annaghmakerrig to the Irish Government to serve as an artists’ retreat. DIB BREF DUB

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Criticism
See Jonathan Bardon, Beyond the Studio: A History of BBC Northern Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2000), 230pp., ill. (some col.), 28 cm. [incls. ref. to first Northern Ireland local broadcast,1924].

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References
Brian de Breffny, Ireland: A Cultural Encyclopaedia (London: Thames & Hudson); b. Tunbridge Wells, gt-grandson of Tyrone Power; one of the earliest BBC producers in BBC Belfast; lifelong interest in theatre Northern Ireland; Sadlier’s Wells and Old vic, London, 1933-1952, as director; forte pageantry and farce; director of festival at Stratford, Ontario, and at the theatre which commemorates him in Minneapolis; developed the thrust stage; left his home to the Irish nation as a retreat for artists.

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Cathach Books, Catalogue 12 lists ‘Squirrel Cage’ and Two Other Microphone Plays (London 1931) [author-signed copy listed £65.]

Whelan Books (Cat. 32) lists A Life in the Theatre (Readers’ Union 1961); James Forsythe, Tyrone Guthrie, A Biography (Hamilton 1976).

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Quotations
Account of Bishop’s Bonfire riot: ‘By lunchtime on the day of the performance you could not get into the street where the theatre stands. At three in the afternoon the mounted police were called to clear the crowds. When the doors opened the police had to be called again, because about a thousand people were storming into a gallery which holds less than three hundred. There was another storm when Catholic students from the national university started to boo in the streets, because they regarded O’Casey as a renegade Irishman. They were answered by Protestant students from Trinity College who made a counter-demonstration in O’Casey’s favour./The streets were ringing with boos and cheers when the little lady who leads the theatre’s orchestra - violin, ‘cello, and a exceedingly upright Ibach - struck up, for reasons which she and her God alone can have known, with a spirited rendering of The bells of Aberdovey. “No”, yelled the gallery, “Irish music!” “Make it Irish” Programmes were folded into paper darts and hurled at the orchestra pit. The rest of the theatre took up the cry, “Make it Irish, Irish, Irish!” and likewise pelted the orchestra pit, where the little lady in a flutter of fear, paper darts and sheet music, was replacing Middleton’s Leek with the Shamrock./Meantime, the students, hearing the noise within, redoubled their efforts in the street. Soon however, for reasons which I do not know, the national faction withdrew, leaving Trinity in possession of the field. “We want O’Casey”, they chanted. “We want O’Casey”. The curtain was now up and the actors were finding the competition rather severe. The day was saved by a fatherly old policeman. he stood in a doorway at the top of a flight of steps:”Listen, he said to the Trinity boys. “Are youse fellers for O’Casey?” “We are. We want O’Casey!” “Well, then for Jesus sake will ye fuck off and let them that have pid for it hear what yer man wrote!”/And straightaway they fucked off, leaving behind them a silence which could be felt, into which the lines of the play fell like thin rain into a bucket./The actors, all keyed up to do or die, had spent themselves in the play’s first forty minutes. At first the audience played up - supposedly anti-Irish or anti-clerical lines were received with jeers and hisses or, by the minority, with exaggerated laughter and applause. But gradually it became apparent that the jokes were not of the finest vintage, the satire not very pointed, the plot a little “hammy” and the performance, in spite of manful efforts by Eddie Byrne and Sean Kavanagh, a little amateurish. By the end of the second act, the excitement had fizzled away. The audience was like a wedding party after the departure of the bride; after the elation of the nuptials and the unwonted champagne comes the reaction; a melancholy, punctuated by hiccups./By the end of the last act torpor was turning to positive vexation. Cyril Cusack came forward at the curtain call and made a long prepared speech in Irish. After thanking the audience for its wonderful reception, he gave a harangue on behalf of tolerance and liberty. Under this final douche of cold water, The Bishop’s Bonfire, which had never quite blazed, fizzled into a heap of damp ashes. (Guthrie, A Life int he Theatre, Hamish Hamilton 1960, pp.267-69.)

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On Carrickmore Festival: ‘I think it must be about the nearest thing left to the sort of event which the Athenian Festivals may have been.// Carrickmore is a village of 200 people in the wilds of County Tyrone - and that's getting pretty wild. They put up a hall, which holds over a thousand people, and once a year they have a week of plays - amateur groups, by invitation from all over Ireland. They place is PACKED, nobody goes to bed all night. After the play they sit up drinking and tearing to pieces what they have seen, with the incredible acumen and malice of stage-struck Irish.[...] From what I've heard, this really is what Theatre's about - a sort of occasion which simply doesn't exist any more in the professional situation and hasn't, I think, existed since Kean's time. The essence being an intelligent, madly keen audience (p.129) which, instead of being sated with drama (breakfast to bedtime, cradle to grave - on the squirt) is avidly, passionately desirous, And that does NOT mean uncritical adorers. Quite the contrary.’ (quoted in Desmond Rushe, ‘Drama: Regional and Dublin’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 3 (Autumn 1971), pp.129-32; p.130). Rushe remarks, that this passage ‘explains Guthrie's attitude, and why he worked so much with companies that were marginally professional, if at all, and why he chose to devote his talents to out-of-the-way places. It may also explain why he would not consider becoming Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre when an unofficial delegation travelled to Co. Monaghan a few years ago in an effort to involve him.’ (p.130).

Notes
Guthrie directed Eugene McCabe's play on Swift at the Abbey, with Micheál MacLiammóir in the title role, and had been going, before his death to direct a new play by Jack White. (noted in Desmond Rushe, ‘Drama: Regional and Dublin’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 3 (Autumn 1971), pp.129-32; p.130).

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