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Tynan

Kenneth Tynan adapted by Richard Nelson with Colin Chambers
Royal Shakespeare Company
Arts Theatre
(2005)

The RSC are currently taking over London. They have seasons at the Albery, the Playhouse, Soho and now, this one-man, one-off at the Arts. This is a far cry from the problems of a couple of years ago when Adrian Noble "sacked" the Barbican and forsook the big city.

Kenneth Tynan is now remembered for all of the wrong reasons. He brought Oh Calcutta to the stage, broke the f*** d*** on TV and had odd sexual preferences.

This play, based on his diaries, addresses all of these matters to a greater or lesser extent but doesn't really get to the heart of the man's genius. This is a pity as Corin Redgrave's expert delivery is relaxed but compelling, under the direction of Richard Nelson.

Tynan commences in 1971, eight years after the Socialist writer/impresario had already completed his career as a theatre critic. It was for this that he achieved his fame and like many youthful prodigies, whether in sport or music, acting or writing, he became increasingly desperate to recreate the glories, as he tried to move on to other ventures.

This was a point when his job as right hand man to Olivier at the National Theatre was coming to an end. The great actor's successor, Peter Hall did not seem to see the point of Tynan.

From there, he suddenly found himself a sick man in a mid-life crisis, who could not see his own point as he ran out of professional ideas and was increasingly stricken with emphysema. This became a Catch 22, as smoking shortened his life but was a necessary part of the writing process that became increasingly important as his overdraft grew.

With an unhappy and unfaithful wife and, surprisingly, a mistress who gave him similar problems, suicide became a serious option, as he became increasingly obsessed with the deaths of friends and acquaintances.

The saviour for a man who literally became allergic to his home country was Dick Shawn, the New Yorker's editor who hired Tynan to write massive profiles (32,000 words) from Santa Monica, for big paychecks. These helped to keep body and soul together and also to fund a spankingly good lifestyle.

The first part of Tynan is very funny, quite significantly due to Redgrave's timing and deadpan delivery. The seated actor is a versatile man who, fresh from playing King Lear and wearing a dizzying psychedelic shirt, catches the look of the man, though the ubiquitous cigarettes are absent.

Regrettably, the subsequent autobiography is not very theatrical or terribly original. The 90-minute adaptation, perhaps inevitably concentrates on the sex and at times, we are almost back in a parallel world to that of Tim Fountain - Sex Addict.

As Dominic Shellard's recent biography demonstrates, Ken Tynan was a very complex character whose life was most interesting and productive prior to the period covered by his diaries and this play. Tynan is a pleasant entertainment but must surely be regarded as a missed opportunity to revive the reputation of a great but flawed man. It is a tragedy that Ken Tynan, a man who shaped theatre in the 1950s, is now sadly and unjustly neglected or even worse, regarded as no more than a sorry comedy act.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Peter Lathan reviewed this show at Newcastle

Reviewer: Philip Fisher