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Diana Rigg, Author

Posted on 2008.07.10 at 02:19
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Mr. Tanner - Harry Chapin
I want to tell you about the most entertaining book you’ve never heard of. It’s titled No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews. It was compiled by Diana Rigg. Yes, that would be the very same Diana Rigg who rose to prominence in the mid-1960s as Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers. If you’re an actor or theater aficionado of any sort, I can promise you a great read. Some of it is utterly fascinating and some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, and you’ll come away happy and even enlightened.

The book was originally published in 1982. Its origins were simple enough. Rigg wrote to all of her actor friends (which is a lot of people) and asked them to send her their worst ever reviews. She supplemented this with a ton of her own research, so while the book contains a great many 20th century names, it also contains some scathing reviews from the likes of Lord Byron, George Bernard Shaw, and that crowd.

This is ultimately an inspiring and encouraging book for any actor, because one sees that every great actor one can think of has been savaged in the press at one time or another. Here’s a choice excerpt – a review of Laurence Olivier as Shylock in a television production of The Merchant of Venice:

“…any fan of Walt Disney comics could turn on the set and see that he had modeled his appearance on Scrooge McDuck.”

In the spirit of fair play, Ms. Rigg includes a review of her own work. She was appearing in a stage production of Abelard and Heloise. The reviewer was John Simon, who was infamous among actors for his often vicious reviews. Simon wrote, in reference to Rigg’s nude scene in the play:

“Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.”

To this day, I’m not 100% sure what he was trying to say, but it doesn’t sound too good. Rigg adds this aside:

“I remember making my way to the theatre the following day, darting from doorway to doorway and praying I wouldn’t meet anyone I knew. The cast behaved with supreme tact and pretended they hadn’t read the review.”

Some of the critical darts, it must be said, are wonderful examples of economical comic writing. One that I shall one day borrow was written by Heywood Broun, in his review of a Broadway comedy not specified in the book:

“The play opened at 8:40 sharp and closed at 10:40 dull…”

I’ve looked around, and the book is readily available from various on-line booksellers. In my own spirit of fair play, I will include a few of my own worst reviews, which are not to be found within the pages of Ms. Rigg’s book. The first would be the one sentence I received in the Detroit News review of my professional debut in the play Steambath:

“Charles seems to not get the joke.”

Ouch. The other one that stuck in my mind was the review I received from the Wayne State University student newspaper for my performance in the bluegrass musical The Robber Bridegroom. The show was performed at Detroit’s Attic Theatre, which was located in the Greektown area of downtown:

“…who may not be the most deft dancer in Greektown . . . his voice isn’t the most supple either, but I’d want him on my hog-calling team…”

Gee, thanks. It’s nice to know that if I ever decide to leave the big city, I might have a future in farm country. That one isn’t so much a bad review as just a weird review! Incidentally, my own copy of No Turn Unstoned came into my possession about 15 years ago. A co-worker loaned it to me, and when I couldn’t stop babbling about how much I loved it, she decided that if it meant that much to me, I should keep it. I have thanked her more than once for this kindness. And since I’m not planning on giving my copy to anyone, I heartily recommend that you dig up a copy for yourself!


thefaeriegirl at 2008-07-10 15:56 (UTC) (Link)
What a great book!
charlesofcamden at 2008-07-10 20:45 (UTC) (Link)
I consider this book, plus Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Acting, or Downwind of Upstage to be on the very short list of essential humorous books on the craft of acting (and that's me from The Robber Bridegroom on the icon)!
(Deleted comment)
charlesofcamden at 2008-07-10 20:40 (UTC) (Link)
Whew! I just read through a bunch of it. A lot to enjoy there :-)
Much as I enjoy a good bad review, I'm also wary of reviewers who are too taken up with showing us how artfully and hip-ly they are able to skewer those whose only crime is being braver and/or more ambitious than the critic. You know the type -- too cool for school, and WAY too cool to like anything popular.
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