April 25, 2008

O'Toole to Produce "Pygmalion" at the Old Vic!

Pygmalion: accents are disappearing

It's a pity that Professor Henry Higgins wouldn't identify accents in London today

Melanie McDonagh

Pygmalion is returning to the London stage in a production for the Old Vic by Peter O'Toole. I can't wait. The play is, as George Bernard Shaw triumphantly observed, “so intensely didactic... that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that art should never be anything else.”

Shaw's Pygmalion is, however, a melancholy reminder that phonetically, England is not the place it once was. The first Act has a brilliant scene in which Henry Higgins is surrounded by an angry crowd and identifies in turn exactly where the people who address him come from. Eliza, he says decisively, comes from Lisson Grove, a bystander from Hoxton. But it is not only the lower orders he can place phonetically as exactly as a botanist might some exotic bloom - Freddy Eynsford Hill's sister is Earl's Court; his mother from Epsom; Colonel Pickering is Cheltenham, Harrow, Cambridge and India.

Is there any place where such a feat would still be possible? Certainly not London, where the accents of Hoxton, Earl's Court and Lisson Grove are indistinguishable, at least in terms of the white English. It's partly because few people in the capital actually live where their parents grew up, partly because London is now divided phonetically on generational, not local, grounds. Freddy's great-granddaughters almost certainly have the Australian uplift at the end of their sentences - you know?

His great-grandsons will sound a bit like Prince Harry, with a deliberately downbeat take on the vernacular. In fact, a really successful contemporary Sloane will sound a bit Rasta. It's a kind of survival mechanism - the phonetic equivalent of dressing from Gap - and with luck will stop you getting beaten up when you open your mouth in mixed company. The one place where, until recently, Professor Higgins's skills survived was Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There you could identify not just someone's religion but the part of town they came from as soon as they opened their mouth: you had to.

The other aspect of changing diction is something that Shaw would have disliked intensely - a diminution in articulacy. The one person I know who maintains the standard of elocution of the generation before last is the art critic Brian Sewell. But he insists he does not have an accent at all.

Of course, the old bores in linguistics departments will maintain that English is a vibrant, ever-changing language. So it is. But the fact that the multifarious accents of Shaw's time - including his own Protestant Irish diction - have disappeared as utterly as Nineveh and Tyre is a change for the worse.

Here's an article from 1987 on Peter and Amanda Plummer's Pygmalion production in New York.

April 01, 2008

O'Toole Blasts West End 'Dross'

"(April 1, 2008) PETER O'TOOLE has slammed London theatre because artistic directors have turned the West End into "dross". The outspoken 75-year-old thespian is unimpressed with modern musicals and plays in the capital, accusing directors of ruining the art of acting. He rages, "Acting today is s**t. London theatre is a graveyard and it's all because of this whole invention of the director. The power of the actor has been taken away. "There are only three indispensable things: the audience, the actor and the author. The rest is dross.""

O'Toole's sentiments echo those of actor Kevin Spacey, owner of the Old Vic theatre in London, who most recently railed against the BBC's penchant for reality-show-style talent competitions, saying they express a bias for big-money musicals of the sort produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

December 09, 2007

O'Toole featured in "Hellraisers" book about Wild brit actors of the 60's


Marie-Noelle informs us that "Hellraisers: The Inebriated Life and Times of Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed" is due to be released. (from amazon:)

"This highly entertaining biography of four charismatic and much loved actors follows them through five decades of boozing, brawling and braggadocio.

At their career peaks, these four controversial actors had the whole world at their feet and lived through some of the wildest exploits Hollywood has ever seen. But all that fame had a price; Richard Burton’s liver was shot by the time he was 50, Richard Harris’s film career stalled for over a decade. Peter O’Toole’s drinking almost put him in the grave before his 43rd birthday, and Oliver Reed ended up dying prematurely.

This is the story of four of the greatest thespian boozers who ever walked — or staggered — off a film set into a pub. It’s a story of drunken binges of near biblical proportions, parties and orgies, broken marriages, drugs, riots and wanton sexual conquests. And yet these piss-artists were seemingly immune from the law. They got away with it because of their extraordinary acting talent and because the public loved them. They were truly the last of a breed, the last of the movie hellraisers.

About the Author
Robert Sellers is a former stand-up comedian and the author of biographies of Sting, Tom Cruise, two appreciations of the work of Sean Connery, and the definitive book on the Pythons: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Thanks, Marie-Noelle!

October 23, 2007

New O'Toole Biography Coming

Peter O'Toole - Hellraiser - The Biography is due to be released soon in the UK. Written by Carolyn Soutar, who has also penned bios of comedian Dave Allen, ballet star Rudolph Nureyev, this is an unofficial account of O'Toole's life - no doubt because O'Toole himself isn't finished with living and is apparently spending part of this year completing the long-awaited third volume of his memoirs, "Loitering with Intent". I've ordered a copy of Hellraiser and I'll post a review when it comes in.

* side note I wonder if they will change the title of the book for the North American release (if any) due to the title being the same as the successful horror film series "Hellraiser".

March 29, 2007

Son rising: Lorcan O'Toole

(from The Independent)
He has his father's rakish attraction, and passion for acting, says Rhoda Koenig
Published: 29 March 2007

"I was going to be called Luke," says Lorcan O'Toole, smiling, "but, right before I was born, my father had a dream in which he was told that I should be named Lorcan." Now 24, he will appear as Lord Byron in Dianna Lefas's The Last Nightingale, a play about the top three on the Romantic-poet hit parade. Mitch McGowan directs the production, above the Gatehouse pub in Highgate, London, where Byron, Shelley and Keats used to drink. Although O'Toole is eight years younger than the character he plays, "he really looks like our idea of Byron," McGowan says. "Beyond that, he has, more than an aristocratic air, a quality of unassailability." He also has the paternal blue eyes, although his voice shows the inheritance of an American mother and a life spent on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in Ireland. He was born in Dublin and grew up in Connemara: "That's my favourite place," he says. "You don't find people there who are bitter and self-loathing."

To paraphrase Byron, O'Toole didn't wake one day to find that his father was famous. "It was more like a cat looking in a mirror," he says of his gradual awareness that other people's parents did not also appear on movie screens. He first thought of taking up acting when he was 12 and in a Tom Stoppard play at Harrow. "My father just had two words of warning - he said: 'It's hard.'"

Lorcan O'Toole studied drama at New York University, but left after a year. "You didn't get to do any acting until the second year, and I felt I had had enough, at Harrow, of writing essays on Ibsen. I think the only way to get better is through experience." He was also at odds with the American approach to motivation: "The drama teachers would say, 'Lorcan, just ride the river,' but I've always wanted to understand things psychologically, to see the mechanics behind the acts." O'Toole was slow getting started, a problem he attributes to, "having a young face and an older demeanour. The different attributes didn't add up. But now that I'm a bit older, things are beginning to come together." Acting has more than lived up to his father's description. "You need to be sensitive in order to act, but you need thick skin to keep going." The support and commiseration of other actors, he says, helps to make the struggle bearable. "We all march together as a tribe." Last year he had his first film role, in Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, playing the grandson of Joan Plowright, an actress he admires: "You can see her thinking."

While waiting to be discovered, O'Toole has been writing screenplays and is trying to get backing for a feature called The Night Child, about which he is reluctant to be too explicit. "It's about terrorism in London in the present and future." Being his father's son is, he says, "60 per cent good, 40 per cent bad if it's an acting role, the other way round if it's another aspect of the business". Peter O'Toole has given him advice on technical matters, but otherwise, says Lorcan firmly: "We're from different generations, we're different people, and, although we share a certain energy, we have different styles. I'm not following in his footsteps. I'm making my own."

After the play ends its run, he will start on Knife Edge, a film directed by Anthony Hickox, and starring Patrick Bergin, Hugh Bonneville, and Andrea Corr, about a man scheming to drive his wife crazy. He plays the wife's brother, "a bit of a rapscallion". Can he manage the stretch from playing Byron the rogue? He laughs. "Who knows? I might play a scoundrel next."

'The Last Nightingale' runs from 31 March to 14 April (; 020-8340 3477 London)

January 19, 2007

Video Clip: O'Toole on Charlie Rose (1 hour!)

Extending his years-long friendship with Charlie Rose, O'Toole appeared on Rose's programme on Wednesday. Here it is!

November 29, 2005

Updates on O'Toole, Kate and Sian

O'Toole to star in "Venus" with Vanessa Redgrave, the film is to be directed by Roger Mitchell ("Enduring Love", "Notting Hill"), written by Hanif Kureishi ("The Buddha of Suburbia").

"The 'coming of very old age' story stars the pair as Maurice and Ian, two unsuccessful English actors who eek out a living doing bit parts in TV and film.When Ian's grand-niece Jessie comes to stay, Maurice shows her the sites and sounds of London while trying to teach the youngster a thing or two about life.All does not go according to plan however, and Maurice ends up learning some hard lessons about himself.Co-starring Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths, the film also introduces newcomer Jodie Whittaker as Jessie."

Sian Phillips has been interviewed by the Times Online on her upcoming role as Miss Havisham in the RSC's production of Great Expectations. Some good bits about her relationship with Peter O'Toole.

Kate O'Toole in a production of Lennox Robinson's 1930's comedy, "Drama at Inish", playing until Dec 31 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

July 04, 2005

O'Toole attends funeral for Sir John Mills


Daily Telegraph

Sir John Mills, one of the greats of the British theatre and cinema, age 97, died in April - his memorial service was held last week. O'Toole attended the service, as did a who's who of the British acting scene - including Sir Michael Caine, Dame Judy Dench, Herbert Lom, Stephen Fry, Sir Richard Attenborough and Sir Cliff Richard.

Strangely enough, my sister-in-law Cheryl reports from London: [her boyfriend] "Will had lunch in the same room as O'Toole today at the clients' club downtown... along with some guy from Bond movies who used to bang Marilyn Monroe." - no word on who the actor was O'Toole was lunching with...!

(another story at HELLO! Magazine...)

June 15, 2005

O'Toole leapt to take on Jeffrey Bernard role. after reading script...

From today's Guardian Unlimited: "Waterhouse crafted the play by distilling Jeff's wonderful Low Life columns in The Spectator, and by adding a large measure of his own comic genius he fashioned one of the funniest plays in the English language. The script was so good that when Waterhouse first sent a copy to Peter O'Toole he received a message on his answering machine cursing him for altering the actor's life. O'Toole had intended to take the following year off work, but the prospect of doing the play so excited him he decided he must commit to it immediately."
(full article)


Under Milk Wood is slated for DVD release on August 9th. (

March 30, 2005

Arts media pick up O'Toole's comments on state of theatre

UK Guardian: O'Toole lashes out at the state of modern theatre Sorry Brad, but Troy was the pits

In the Scotsman article, a spokesman for the Scottish Arts Council responds to O'Toole's comments:

"Mr O’Toole should come north if he feels his enthusiasm for theatre waning."The standard of Scottish work for the stage - in producing, performing and in writing - is exceptionally high and there is a lot of exciting, entertaining and thought-provoking work being shown on stages from Dumfries to Caithness and all parts in between."We've a new breed of young artistic directors re-invigorating Scottish theatre both in style of presentation and in the work produced," she said. "Meanwhile, the National Theatre of Scotland also promises a new era for Scottish audiences, actors and playwrights."Nor should the connection between public investment in theatre and the commercial sector be overlooked. The broadcast industries rely very heavily on actors who began their career on the stage; experience which doubtless adds depth to their screen performances."

March 23, 2005

The Young O'Toole - a Nubbing Thespian

The New Statesman has a good article on a theatrical tradition known as "nubbing" - spouting believable but not legitimate Shakespearean prose to cover a lost line while in performance. Apparently O'Toole was good at it in his days walking the boards:

"...the young Peter O'Toole, when at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, had a few nubs up his sleeve. One can imagine O'Toole falling back on his nub after a particularly hung-over matinee. . .or indeed using it to spice up a dull evening - rather in the way that Michael Gambon or Judi Dench allegedly cause mischief with a misplaced word or an unexpectedly unbuttoned corset.

O'Toole's best nub required an actor to carry a purse with him at all times, explained Caird. On being lost for words, you clap the actor standing next to you on the back, look sharply into the wings and say: "Here come the lords of Ross and Willoughby, bloody with spurring and fiery-red with haste; take thou this purse, thou naughty knave, and meet me straightway in the marketplace." You then hand the actor your purse and stride off into the prompt corner to reacquaint yourself with the text."


Also, I found this article by Guy Adams in the BC Weekly "The Boards" on drinking, Stanislavski, and that particular class of actor who gains a rep for ripping it up. Oddly, the article makes mention of O'Toole...