Kenneth (Peacock) Tynan

Definition

Theater

  • (1927 - 80) British theater critic, who wrote witty, acerbic, andcontroversial columns for The Observer (1954 - 58, 1960 - 63)and the New Yorker (1958 - 60).

    After leaving Oxford Tynan directed a provincial repertory company andeven acted as First Player to Alec Guinness's Hamlet (1951) before moving intojournalism. His sarcasm could devastate a play. Reviewing The Glorious Days(1953), he wrote, "There was a heated division of opinion in the lobbiesduring the interval but a small conservative majority took the view that itmight be as well to remain in the theater." Sir Donald Wolfit and severalother managers tried unsuccessfully to bar Tynan from seeing their plays,while Richard Burton once physically attacked him. He could be equally ardentin his enthusiasms, famously declaring in 1956, "I doubt if I couldlove anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger."

    In 1963 Tynan was appointed literary manager to the new National Theatre,where he worked closely with Laurence Olivier. Here he promoted the works ofAnouilh, Brecht, and Beckett before clashing with the governors over hisdesire to stage Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers, which presentedChurchill as a war criminal. When censorship was abolished in 1968, Tynanco-produced the play at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward). Thefollowing year he left the National to produce the sex revue Oh, Calcutta!,a self-styled "evening of elegant erotica" that ran for 1314performances in New York (1969) and for 2434 in London (1970). His later years,which were spent mainly in California, were clouded by writer's block anddeteriorating health.

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