by H. MONTGOMERY HYDE
My World of Theatre by Peter Daubeny (Cape £3.95)
PETER DAUBENY has made a distinguished name for himself in the postwar theatre of this country. Since becoming a producer in 1945, he has brought to England 83 companies from overseas, and presented a total of 200 English and foreign productions in London. For the past seven years he has concentrated his efforts on the creation and direction of the World Theatre season at the Aldwych, which has become internationally famous. He has now written a fascinating account of this as well as of his earlier theatrical experiences. His book, which should be compulsory reading for everyone interested in the English theatre, is refreshingly free from malice and vanity—in which, as we all know, some theatre people indulge when talking and writing about each other.
As a boy Mr. Daubeny be
came stage-struck; while still at school he produced Gordon Daviot's play Richard of Bordeaux. He owed his introduction to the professional theatre to Hugh Walpole, to whom he had written a fan letter. This was as it should be, since Walpole got his first leg up in the literary world from
Henry James, to whom he had addressed a similar communication. Anyhow, Walpole put young Daubeny in touch with the Liverpool Repertory Company, then under the direction of William Armstrong, After a passable performance in the part being played by an actor whom he understudied, and who had suddenly fallen Daubeny was taken on by Armstrong at a salary of a week.
On the outbreak of the war in 1939 the Liverpool Rep was absorbed by Basil Dean in ENSA. Since he came from a military family, the young actor reverted to type and was commissioned in the Coldstream Guards, After losing an arm at Salerno in 1943, he returned to England to rejoin his regiment at Wellington Barracks. Here he narrowly escaped death from the flying bomb which wrecked the Guards Chapel and killed many of its congregation one Sunday morning in 1944.
When the theatre started up again after the war, there was no room for a one-armed actor. This led Daubeny to try his hand as a producer, which he was able to do with the encouragement and help of friends like Noel Coward and Ivor Novell°. The latter gave him a useful piece of advice in warning him of the perils facing a youthful and inexperienced producer.
"From now on," said Novello, "you can trust very few. The theatre is the most exciting profession in the world. It is also a very dangerous and treacherous one. Never mind what people think of you. Follow your judgment and no one else's. And if you are ever in trouble over anything. come to me. I will never let you down."
Fortunately for Daubeny, Novello was as good as his word. He gave the tyro manager his first success with the production of We Proudly Present. Other dramatists whose works Daubeny presented were Frederick Lonsdale, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward, and he writes engagingly and informatively about them too.
Daubeny first met Maugham in New York, where he went in search of possible plays for future London production. Maugham also gave him a useful piece of advice at their first dinner. "Never criticise an American to his face. unless it's to rave about something, and never call an (continued in next col.)