Stephen Boswell and I both grew up in Cheltenham and both our first experiences of theatre were in the Opera House (later the Everyman Theatre) there. It was the magic of those first visits that sowed the seeds that led both of us to take up the cloak of Thespis.
In his new book, Boswell’s Life of Boswell, Mr B meanders down memory lane, strolling through reminiscences of a life full of colourful characters and equally colourful events. He gives us a glimpse into a life that may not have made him rich and famous but was certainly never uneventful. There are stories about his early life in the theatre, working in rep at Cheltenham, Salisbury and other regional theatres, as well as anecdotes, often of a slightly (frequently very) risqué nature, about many, mostly long gone, famous actors. Sir John Gielgud seems to figure particularly largely. Mr Boswell also has some stories about his between-jobs job, namely selling second-hand books.
Boswell’s Life of Boswell was conceived and born while Stephen was appearing in the hit musical Top Hat at the Aldwych a couple of years ago. The thought that he was treading the same boards and sitting in the same dressing room as the stars of the famous Aldwych farces of the twenties and thirties inspired him to pick up his pen and write about a style of comedy that dominated those decades and its exponents – the likes of Robertson Hare, Tom Walls, Ralph Lynn and, of course, Ben Travers. He gives us many insights into the art and techniques of playing farce, as well as recounting his own experiences of doing so. He also gets a bit side-tracked and spices things up as he goes off piste to relate many eye-brow raising anecdotes involving such luminaries as Robert Atkins, Rudi Shelly and all the other usual theatrical suspects.
This is an edifying and entertaining book which will appeal to anyone who likes backstage stories (and scandal), is interested in the old rep system or is seeking an insight into how farce can and should be played. Michael Hasted 30/09/14
BOSWELL’S LIFE OF BOSWELL by Stephen Boswell
with a foreword by Sir Michael Codron
Published by Stone Trough Books September 2014
ISBN 9870992949709 RRP £7.50