Friday, June 16, 2017

1927 review of William Hartnell

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, William Hartnell – later, the first Doctor Who – trained as an actor at the Italia Conti Stage School. In 1924, aged 16, he joined the repertory company of actor-manager Frank Benson.

The ODNB says Hartnell “often” appeared in eight plays in a single week. I've found little supporting evidence for this in the contemporary press – but then the press wouldn't necessarily name every member of a cast, especially if they played only a small role.

Benson's company was well known for its productions of Shakespeare and Wikipedia lists appearances by Hartnell in The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, The Tempest and Macbeth all in 1926. The same year he also appeared in She Stoops to Conquer and School for Scandal, and the following year in Good Morning, Bill. I've seen his name in cast lists but no reviews that comment on his performance - until now.

The following review was published on page 8 of The Devon and Exeter Gazette on Tuesday, 15 November 1927.
“The Man Responsible” at Exeter Theatre.
The Theatre Royal, Exeter, during the past season or so has staged a number of “thrillers”, but they have been, with the possible exception of “Dracula”, thrillers of a wholesome character. We recall such dramatic sensations as “The Ghost Train”, “The Bat”, “No. 17” and “The Cat and the Canary.” This week a thriller of a totally different character is being presented in “The Man Responsible.” The play, it is true, is full of thrills, but thrills of a nature which hardly appeal to the ordinary theatre-goer we should imagine. It opens upon an unpleasant note, and as the play develops situations arise which are unpleasant in the extreme. The drugging and hypnotising of a promising young doctor by a specialist driven mad by revenge for the death of a daughter by an illegal operation, and the forcing of the young medico to perform a critical operation on his mother, who dies while under the influence of the anaesthetic, form sensational thrills, but whether they are of a wholesome description is another matter. The reference to the “Justice of the Almighty being too slow” in the “trial scene” is not pleasant, to put it mildly, even though it be the ravings of a madman. To our mind “The Man Responsible” strikes the note of “melodrama gone mad.” Probably we shall be hauled over the coals for our opinion, but the duty of a critic seems to us to be to express his opinion, and this is the opinion of our critic. By the way, what has Exeter done to be mentioned as near the scene of the play?
    The company who present the play have a difficult task, and the most difficult of all is that which falls to the lot of Mr. William Hartnell, to whom is entrusted the all-important role of Dr. Ronald Warden, the tortured young medico. It was a realistic playing of the part for which Mr. Hartnell was responsible. First there was the brilliant young medical man, eager and enthusiastic, standing at the threshold of what promises to be a useful and splendid career. Then there comes the transformation into the drugged, nervous wreck, the tool of the medical maniac. A wonderful realistic presentation Mr. Hartnell gave, and his audience accorded him the whole-hearted applause he deserved. Miss Mabel Heath gave a sympathetic rendering of Annie Ritter – another part calling for careful handling. Mr. A Fellows Bassett gave a “Svengalistic” touch to the role of the hypnotising maniac, Dr. Morris Morton, while Mr. Harold Greaves was convincing as Dr. Felex Gordon. Miss Hazel Morne did well as Marion, and the minor roles of Vernie (Miss Dulcie French), Mrs. Warden (Miss Eugenie Vernie), and Jensen (Miss Sylvia Rimmer) were well presented. There will be the usual Friday matinee.
The following year, Hartnell had a role in Miss Elizabeth's Prisoner, alongside the actress Heather McIntyre. They married in 1929. In 1932, Hartnell made his first appearance on film in Say It With Music.

1 comment:

John Bowman said...

Nice! Well done and thank you for finding it, Simon!