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Writing About Theatre

This is Kenneth Tynan writing about Frederick Valk in Ibsen's THE MASTER BUILDER. It comes from Tynan's (then aged 23) first book 'He That Plays The King' (1950), a brilliant collection of theatre reviews. If you want to know what the great actors of the forties were like in performance, this is the book to read. I read and re-read his description of Olivier as Justice Shallow in Henry 4 Pt.1.

Mr Valk's Othello was like a great dam bursting... and now his Solness has made his star blaze red across all this continent, and other lights are tapers. You felt at once that tis man had built monuments, stone upon stone, and was capable of sheer, muscle-tight toil; you could not consent to it as mere stage presence. I noticed a strange tendency in myself to begin to compare him with Frank Lloyd Wright. I see now that I must have been temporarily insane, for as I sat watching him I could cheerfully have measured his bulk against that of the Palace of All the Soviets, and not found them disparate by one solitary inch or stress. He seemed an Alp. And when he fell from his crazy tower, the very fall of the House of Usher seemed like crackling matchwood. My Valk rules our stages, but not with the negligent assurance of a constitutional monarch. Mr Valk is a dictator.

I saw Frederick Valk on stage only once in Peter Ustinov's comedy 'Romanoff and Juliet'. But never in any of the great roles. And I remember sitting opposite him on the Tube once. I suspect he's almost forgotten now.


Michael Meyer speaks very highly of Valk as an Ibsen actor, and adds that his was the finest Lear he had seen. Ive only seen Valk once on screen as the doctor in the Michael Redgrave episode of Dead of Night.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> All things theatrical
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