- (Plays and Players - UK - October, 1959)
Leigh in Look After Lulu! at the New Theatre
Vivien Leigh, now playing the title-role in
Look After Lulu! at the New Theatre, has gone from success in the theatre since she played her first part at the Ambassador's 24 years ago. It is in comedy that she excels, and this Noel Coward adaptation of Feydeau's famous farce has given her an ideal role.
It is strange that we should have waited so long to see Vivien Leigh in a Feydeau farce. With her delicate type of
beauty, her aptitude for frothy comedy, her exquisitely controlled
movement on the stage, and her sheer personal vivacity, she seems to
have been born to play the alluring heroines of Feydeau. And did she
not also study with Mlle. Antoine of the Comédie Française?
it is almost by chance that she is now playing in Noël Coward's
adaptation of Occupe-toi d'Amélie. Last year, travelling by
train from London to Newcastle for the opening of Duel Of Angels,
in which she starred with Claire Bloom, she happened to say to their
producer, Jean-Louis Barrault, that she was looking for a light
comedy to follow this more serious Giraudoux play.
why", he replied, "don't you persuade someone to translate
Occupe-toi d'Amélie for you. It should be ideal".
this advice, Vivien Leigh approached Noël Coward, who was
immediately enthusiastic. He adapted the play, retaining all the
situations of the original, but altering some of the dialogue to
make it more suitable to the English stage. And so, in Look After
Lulu! Vivien Leigh made her first appearance in farce.
how she enjoys playing in farce, her reply is forthright: "Actors
don't really enjoy playing farce. It demands tremendous
concentration, scarcely gives you time to breathe, and is utterly
exhausting. But it is a wonderful exercise and excellent
found rehearsals a trial. "It is so depressing to rehearse a
farce", she explains, "because the play soon becomes
completely unfunny to the cast. You begin to think nobody else will
ever find it funny either - until you play it to an audience. Then
it suddenly comes to life again, and all the extravagant situations
that have become stale to the actor become quite fresh once
or not she enjoys playing in farce, audiences are certainly enjoying
Vivien Leigh's performance in Look After Lulu! which marks her
twenty-fifth year on stage. It was in 1935, in The Mask Of Virtue at
the Ambassador's Theatre, that she became an overnight success. She
had, however, made her screen debut the previous year in a
then made a name for herself in Shakespeare, appearing in the course
of two years as the Queen in Richard II at Oxford, Anne
Boleyn in Henry VIII at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park,
and Ophelia at Kronborg Castle, Elsinore, with Olivier as Hamlet.
She also played Titania in Tyrone Guthrie's notable production of A
Midsummer Night's Dream for the Old Vic Company in 1937.
a time we lost her to America, where she made films in Hollywood and
played Juliet on Broadway. Returning to the West End in 1942 she
enjoyed a huge personal success as Mrs. Dubedat in Doctor's
Dilemma. This was followed by one of her greatest triumphs, the
part of Sabina in The Skin Of Our Teeth, first at the Phoenix
Theatre until her illness closed the run, and later at the
of the highlights in her career are, of course, linked with that of
Sir Laurence Olivier. At the New Theatre in 1949 they appeared
together in The School For Scandal, Richard III and Antigone;
at the St. James's, two years later, they starred together in the
Cleopatra plays of Shakespeare and Shaw; while at Stratford they
were seen in 1955 in Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Titus
Leigh has enjoyed an unusually varied career. For many people she is
thought of as a star of two of the most notable films ever made - Gone
With The Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. For
theatregoers she is the beautiful and talented lady of our West End
stage. And for those who feel that as a nation we are too little
concerned over our theatrical tradition, she will always be
remembered as the champion of the St. James's.
new side of Vivien Leigh's character emerged two years ago when it
was announced that the St. James's Theatre was to be demolished to
make room for a block of offices. Theatre lovers all over the
country declared that such an action would be scandalous, but they
felt nothing could be done. It was left to Vivien Leigh to show that
something could be done. Summoning up a fighting spirit that
none of us thought she possessed, she took part in a protest march
down Fleet Street. Then, when this failed, she decided on more
daring solo action.
sleepy atmosphere of the House of Lords was shattered by a firm,
cool, determined voice from the public gallery - "My Lords, I
wish to protest about the St. James's Theatre being demolished".
With admirable dignity Vivien Leigh then allowed herself to be led
out of the House. But she had made history.
campaign to save the St. James's failed, but had more of our leading
players shown something of her courage and enterprise, this
beautiful theatre, with the glorious memories, would almost
certainly be standing today. And by her action, Vivien Leigh proved
the sincerity and the depth of her regard both for her profession
and for the ideals of the art she serves.
feels now that our theatre could be best served by repertory seasons
such as she and Sir Laurence have run in the past. But these seasons
are expensive to put on and difficult to arrange, in these days of
high costs. She hopes, however, that it will be possible to present
one again in the not-too-distant future.
Look After Lulu! she wants a change from light fare. She
would like to play in Ibsen, which she has never done so far, or in
Chekhov. And the mysterious allure of Cleopatra still draws her. But
whatever she chooses to play, she will not fail to attract the huge
public which thinks of her as mistress of comedy, spirited player of
Shakespeare, or champion of the theatre whenever it is being