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Apprenticeship

Peter Gill
Oberon Books
Released

It seems that the genesis of this slim volume was the discovery by Peter Gill of his diary from 1962. This contained recollections of a difficult period working under Bill Gaskill on Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle for the RSC.

The first half of Apprenticeship gives something of a picture of the life and experiences of a young man entering the theatrical profession fifty years ago. Gill was intelligent and thoughtful and clearly well suited to working at the Royal Court under George Devine.

This was another age when theatre was still reeling from the attack of the Angry Young Men on the traditional well-made play. Again and again, Gill emphasises his belief in the writer's theatre that the Royal Court became, damning directors who wish to become auteurs. It is apparent that if anything, this view is stronger today than it was when he started out in the profession.

In less than sixty pages, Gill looks at his own experience and the Royal Court at that time when in addition to Devine and Gaskill, major players included Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson, both destined to achieve greater fame on the silver screen. He also considers the artistic aesthetic that would underlie a career as an actor, director and playwright.

After the interval, the second part looks back to a groundbreaking production that had more than its fair share of difficulties. What Bill Gaskill was trying to achieve was always going to be difficult as European and British outlooks were so different.

At one point, five weeks before the play was to open, a major rift developed when the company were asked to decide whether they wished to take a collective approach to the production, potentially tearing up their three-year RSC contracts or would prefer to use more traditional means.

These were the golden days when trade unions still existed and the idea of the greatest good of the greatest number had not been destroyed by the Conservative government of the 1980s in this country and the fall of the Berlin Wall and its wider ramifications elsewhere.

Gill also includes a fine homage to the future Dame Edith Evans, who in a single recital at the Aldwych Theatre, effortlessly managed to encapsulate all that is meant by style and everything that he and the RSC team were struggling to achieve.

There is also the surprise of finding that the company's pianist was none other than Dudley Moore, a man whom nobody at that time had singled out as an actor let alone a future Hollywood sex symbol.

In terms of length, Apprenticeship is closer to that of a short story than a novella, and far from a full-scale novel. However, it provides some interesting insights into the artistic life and the thoughts of one of today's most important practitioners during his developmental years. It is also sensibly priced for a well-produced hardback, which is much to the credit of Oberon.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher