James Agate

Definition

Theater

  • (1877 - 1947) British theater critic, whose reviews appearedin the Sunday Times from 1923 until his death. He creditedGeorge Bernard Shaw as his inspiration, saying, "Thearticles signed 'G.B.S.' in The Sunday Review made me determinethat one day I would be a dramatic critic."

    In 1928 Agate used his fortnightly theater talk on the BBCto promote R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End, which had justopened. He claimed that he had advised the manager to cancel it becausethe public was utterly unworthy of such a play. Abusive letters pouredin from listeners and people rushed to the box office. He often usedthe incident as an example of the power of exaggeration.

    Agate's one attempt to write a play himself was a disaster.Having collaborated on a comedy, Blessed Are The Rich, he persuadedfriends to put up several thousand pounds for its production at theVaudeville Theatre in 1928. When the curtain fell the audience luredAgate onstage with polite applause then roared their disapproval withloud shouts of 'Rubbish!'. The play lasted 13 performances and attractedmany actors and playwrights who enjoyed this revenge on their previoustormentor.

    He was notoriously difficult to please. Only Henry Irvingand Sarah Bernhardt were accorded the accolade of greatness.His sister May Agate (1892 - 1960) had studied with Bernhardtand appeared with her in Paris and London. Agate's pen could be floridwhen he contemplated the French actress:

    You would know a scene of Sarah Bernhardt's if you met itin your dreams. To say of the very greatest actress of this type thatshe is always herself is obviously to mean that whatever quality sheexpresses will be expressed in its highest power.
    It also could be sharp, as in his review of Charles Laughton'sLondon performance as Henry VIII in 1933:
    Mr. Laughton came to Sadler's Wells with all his blushingfilm vulgarities thick upon him.
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