Shaw’s 150th Birthday in the UK and Dublin, July 2006

A Photo Album by Dick & Lori Dietrich


          After celebrating Shaw’s birthday in the U.S. at Brown U. with the “Sesquicentennial Shaw” conference, Lori and I decided to represent the ISS at the celebrations in the UK and Dublin, most of which were scheduled for the end of July.   What follows is a rather incomplete photographic record of that, due to the fact that we were often too busy enjoying ourselves to take pictures.   And of course cameras are forbidden at play productions, a rule we violated only at Shaw’s Corner, where the productions were outdoors.   It was a great trip, and we are very thankful to the many people who made it so, some of whom got themselves photographed, some of whom, unfortunately, did not.     


          The trip began with a stay in the village of Ayot St. Lawrence, where the Shaws frequently hid out on weekends during their London years and eventually stayed most of the time. 



Only single-lane (but two-way) roads lead into Ayot, with tall hedges on both sides of the road, as below.  The following examples, near Shaw’s Corner, are actually of better and wider roads than was usually the case on the way in:



The only widening of the road occurred in the village itself, particularly in the part from the Brocket Arms pub down to Shaw’s Corner and up from the pub.   There one could even park on the road!  Ayot has a population of between 100 & 200, mostly millionaires, one imagines.  



The Brocket Arms, now a pub and inn and the only business in town other than B&Bs, supposedly began in the 14th C. as a monastery.

Just catty-corner across the road is the ruin of a church, mostly torn down because it blocked the view of the lord of the manor!



          We stayed in the room right above the pub, featuring a four-poster bed and “Tudor” ceiling.






   Weather permitting, the dining room of the Brocket Arms is outside in the garden.   But that doesn’t look like dining, does it?



         Some other houses in very upscale Ayot:



         Scenes around Ayot.  The Bridle Path and the surrounding wheat fields:



        At last, “Shaw’s Corner,” although that sign wasn’t added on to the gate until after Shaw’s death:



         Shaw’s Corner from the back and the side.    When the Shaws went looking for a house in the country, the only thing they agreed

         on is that they didn’t like this house.   Apparently they got used it.   Mrs. Shaw ran a tight ship, according to the servants, who

         occupied the left-hand side of the house.  



           Shaw’s garden, looking down from the house:                                             And a side-path to the writing hut:



          Shaw’s writing hut, where he went for peace and quiet:                    Shaw’s vegetable garden is now a parking lot:



           Off the back of Shaw’s house is a short parapet that is used by Michael Friend Productions to stage plays every summer.

           This gets slippery during rainy days and actors are known to fall off, but the lack of stage depth is made up for by the

           incredible acoustics of the natural amphitheater provided by Shaw’s back yard, providing that the wind is not blowing in!    

           Below the audience gathers for BACK TO METHUSELAH, Part II or SHAW CORNERED, the two plays staged at this time.

           For more on Michael Friend Productions, see



          Every play at Shaw’s Corner is preceded by mad picnicking, as people come laden with baskets, buckets, wine coolers, chairs, and

          tables, devoting an earnest hour, in some cases, to this “opener.”   We join the madding crowd:



          Surprisingly, this ravenous crowd, once fed, settles down quite nicely and listens quite attentively to the play, almost every word of

          which can be well heard.    Michael Friend is the heroic director of both plays, produced on Saturday and Sunday night before the

          sun goes down.   Hayward Morse stars as the Elderly Gentleman in “The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman” and as Shaw in the very

          irreverent SHAW CORNERED.



           The Elderly Gentleman and his long-living keeper have                    In SHAW CORNERED, where a deceased Shaw in Hell is

           trouble making sense of what each other says:                                  greeted by the Devil, who is of course a woman, Shaw has

                                                                                                                        a lively exchange with Shakespeare:



         The frivolous youth of “As Far As Thought Can Reach”                     Until better instructed by an Ancient:

         gambol about frivolously:



      The current caretaker of Shaw’s Corner is Paul Williamson,                  It’s good that there’s a pub in town, for well-worked actors

      who rises to the challenge with a host of National Trust                           need watering after such lengthy speeches!   Below are

      volunteers:                                                                                                   Malcolm Wroe, who will M.C. the RADA dinner for Shaw,

                                                                                                                           and playwright Robert Shearman, who does to Shaw in his

                                                                                                                           play what Shaw did to the senior playwrights of his day.  Tch, Tch.



          Surrounded by Friends, Michael Friend & his wife Alex:                   Somebody pretending to be “The Chucker Out.”   

                                                                                                                         Farewell to Shaw’s Corner.



          Moving on to Dublin, we miss the tea party for Shaw at the National Gallery, but we spend a delightful afternoon

          at Shaw’s Birthplace Museum at 33 Synge Street.



           Entrance is though the Shaw’s kitchen, which was in the basement at the front of the house. 

          There we are provided with a warm welcome and an introduction by Mary Lou Norton and

          Angela Grayson.   



         Virtually none of the furnishings in this house belonged to the Shaws, but the curators have worked hard

         to provide artifacts that are representative of the times and that are like what the Shaws might have owned.

         One exception is the cash till below, which is the one actually used by Shaw in his job as head cashier at

         Uniacke Townshend, Land Agents, in the 1870s.   And the small back garden may not have been as well attended

         as the one below.



         The bedrooms in this narrow, multi-leveled house were all quite small, as was the house in general, and one wonders how

         a ménage à trois could have been conducted in such close quarters.   Sonny’s bedroom, on a separate landing just

         above the servant’s quarters, is on the left, and the view from it up a small staircase to the front door is on the right:



          The upstairs drawing room, where most of the important action was in this house, was reached by climbing a narrow stairs:



          Immediately above the piano is a photograph of the strange “family” that made use of the drawing room for constant singing,

          with, notably, Vandaleur Lee at the center, Bessie Shaw on the right, George Carr Shaw consigned to the background and

          barely in the picture. On the right, the entrance to the drawing room. 



          A special treat for Shaw’s birthday celebration was the appearance of Eileen O’Sullivan, a professional singer-actress,

          who sang in the drawing room some of the very songs that Bessie Shaw and her daughters sang for and with Vandaleur

          Lee and no doubt other members of his various casts.   Eileen, who was about 8 months pregnant and who once played

          Liza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY, couldn’t resist tempting fate by singing “Wouldn’t it be luverly?”   The ceiling did

          not collapse!



          But the view from Sonny’s room in “the dungeon” was considerably less glamorous, up a staircase

          used mainly by servants, to the bedrooms, dining room, and drawing room above.   And just behind

          and below his room was the pantry and the facility on the right below.   At least he wasn’t disturbed

          by constant flushing!



          Regretfully, because taking photos during performances is not welcomed, we cannot show you much of what transpired

          at the FilmBase in TempleBar in the evening of July 25th, but at least here are the excellent young actors taking bows for

          their performances in three of Shaw’s one-acts, OVERRULED, AUGUSTUS DOES HIS BIT, and PASSION, POISON,

          PETRIFACTION, OR, THE FATAL GAZOGENE, which proves that Shaw could write rollicking farce when he wanted

          to.   These 3 plays were combined with another evening of a different set of one-act plays, making up what was advertised

          as “Shaw in Lust.”   Our thanks especially to Mary Casey, Secretary of the Dublin Shaw Society, for her directing of

          these plays and to Lizzy Morrissey for her very entertaining rendition of Shaw’s “lustful” ladies.  



          On our way out of Dublin on the 26th, we managed to grab the Irish Times and were delighted to find there

          no fewer than four articles acknowledging Shaw’s birthday, the most substantial one by our own Peter Gahan.

          Eventually I may scan in one or more of these articles and, if so, watch the space on the left for links.

          On the right below is a picture on the wall leading into the security area at the airport where one is frisked.

          Perhaps it suggests Shaw’s view of a world where such things have come to pass.





Look here in the future for links.


             London was experiencing global warming when we got there, and people used “brollies” not to keep off

             the rain but to prevent being boiled alive.    Fortunately, the Hotel Russell was air conditioned!



          In the late afternoon of July 26th, some curious scheduling left us with a choice of attending a Michael Holroyd

          talk at the BM or a platform discussion at the National Theatre on “Shaw and Politics.”   Hearing that

          Holroyd was not well and might not show up for his talk, we unfortunately opted for the NT platform, which

          turned out to be perfunctory at best, misleading and dismissive at worst.   The NT compounded the insult of

          not doing a Shaw play by offering a platform that was a waste of time.    This aggravation, however, was more

          than made up for by the spending of a very enjoyably evening at the home of Anthony and Evelyn Ellis, who

          hosted with Vinod Sharma, the head of the Shaw Society of India in Delhi, a wonderful supper for a group

          of charming people who all deserved to be photographed but who were not, to our great annoyance.  With one

          exception. Too busy talking, I suppose, but we did get a great shot of Vinod Sharma, in full regalia:



          In the next few days the NT somewhat made up for their slighting of Shaw with

          good performances of Brecht’s GALILEO and of Leigh’s TWO THOUSAND YEARS.   And then came the

          climactic evening of the Shaw dinner salute at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on July 29th .   The M. C.

          was the redoubtable Malcolm Wroe, who knows to wear the right jacket (here seen with Alan Knight on the left

          and introducing Hayward and Barry Morse on the right):



          Following are some of the tables at the buffet, and perhaps some of you will recognize a face or two:



          Below, on the left, is a table of luminaries, featuring a toast between Barbara Smoker and Barry Morse,

          and, on the right, is the actors’ table, and it’s unfortunate that we have no photos of their splendid

          performances.  Below is a list of the scenes they did, under the direction of Richard Digby-Day,

          and introduced by him and Tony Kanal:


1.     Scene from MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION, Act II, by Susan

     Edmonston and Emily Raymond

2.     Scene from DEAR LIAR, by Gary Raymond and Delena Kidd

3.     Scene from PYGMALION, Act IV, by Andrew Wincon and

     Naomi Frederick

4.     Another scene from DEAR LIAR

5.     Scene from IN GOOD CHARLES’ GOLDEN DAYS, Act II,

     by Frank Barrie and Rosalind Knight

6.     Scene from John Masefield’s 90th Birthday Tribute to GBS, by

          Faith Brook.



          These performances were preceded by a series of toasts and special commemorations, and concluded by

           a pinch-hit summing up by the President of the ISS, only one of which was recorded for posterity—

           Barry Morse’s toast to GBS.   Although Barry was originally scheduled to do the summing up, he was

           not feeling well and had to leave soon after his toast, a stirring tribute to Shaw as “Mr. Valiant-

           for-Truth,” from Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.    Curses to the microphone for getting in the way

           of the shot, but at least we got a better shot of Barry at the reception.   Barry was assisted by his son,

           Hayward, whose impersonation of Shaw at Shaw’s Corner ably kept a family tradition very much alive.  



          Also featured were very interesting accounts of “GBS and RADA,” by Peter Fiddick, and “Memories of Shaw”

           by Charles Cleghorn and Jeanne Dolmetsch.   Following are some shots of individuals that you might recognize.  

           On the left, Tom and Frances Evans, and below them Michael and Alexandra Friend.    On the right, Vinod Sharma

           and Dorthy                  .    And below them Michael Friend with Jeremy Crow and Louize Gibson.     Jeremy,

           of the Society of Authors, is the man who presides over the Shaw Estate.   



    Ivan Wise, the new editor of THE SHAVIAN,                                              Jeanne Dolmetsch, who spoke of Shaw’s friendship

    and friend Gemma                                                                                          with Arnold Dolmetsch.



      Lori and Zach Venderfeld, late of Drury Lane (a joke!)                              Dick congratulates Pat Boothman, a lucky winner of the raffle.

                                                                                                                             Pat also acted in BACK TO METHUSELAH.                                                                                                                                  



          On Sunday July 30, through another scheduling quirk, we were forced to choose between

          seeing a film of MAJOR BARBARA at the Barbican Cinema, introduced by Barbara Smoker,

          or seeing Part I of Michael Friend’s BACK TO METHUSELAH at the Theatre Museum in

          Covent Garden.   As we had seen the film many times, we chose METHUSELAH.   Again, no

          photo-taking allowed, but we managed to capture the valiant actors taking their bows.   Hayward

          Morse was superb throughout in a variety of roles, and Christine Lawrence’s serpent is unlikely

          ever to be bested.   



          Although one could complain about the lack of Shaw productions at major theaters, especially at the NT,

          all in all the birthday celebrations were quite wonderful to behold and Lori and I feel lucky to have been

          a part.   Our thanks to all the people in the UK and Dublin who made this trip such a pleasure.   We leave

          you now with a few random shots of London that provide some context for the world in which this all

          took place (note the Palestinian demonstration in Trafalgar Square on the bottom left).   The world

          moves on, and our presentation of Shaw had better move with it if we want him to continue in it.



          And now on to the Third Annual Shaw Symposium at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

          where the celebration continues.    We’re sorry to be missing ShawChicago’s celebration, and other events,

          but we can’t get to them all.   Whatever, the ISS marches on!