Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Chief among the themes and meanings of the play is a loving and respectful portrait of an actor-manager, a type which was an endangered species in 1942 and later became virtually extinct. The play thus serves on one level as a piece of nostalgia. Ronald Harwood worked as the dresser for Sir Donald Wolfit (an actor-manager who specialized in Shakespearian roles) for almost five years, but, as Harwood points out in a foreword, the play must not be read as autobiographical. Nonetheless, Harwood’s knowledge enables him to construct a plausibly grand and idiosyncratic actor-manager character and provide an accurate portrait of theater life. Some of the actors may be getting too self-important, like Oxenby, while some are willing to take on larger parts, like Geoffrey Thornton. Some commit indiscretions, like Davenport-Scott, necessitating wholesale shuffling of parts. There are always financial problems, with the worry of attracting a sufficient paying audience. The fact that the whole company stays not in hotels but in poor-quality “digs” (boarding-house accommodation) is mentioned only in passing. Sir has problems with himself, not knowing when to retire (though acutely aware of his failing health and memory) and unable to keep his hands off young women. The audience begins to suspect that, despite the loving nicknames Sir and Her Ladyship have for each other, there may be sexual tension between them, perhaps related to Sir’s old-age impotence.


(The entire section is 566 words.)