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Baron spell of a theatre great.

Byline: , Val Javin

Fifty years ago today, the Theatre Royal reopened in Huddersfield with a sparkling comedy.

In the cast was a young actor who was to have a profound influence on theatre not just in this country but across the world.

His name was David Baron and he was to make his mark and his name, not so much as an actor, but as a writer.

For David Baron read Harold Pinter, now Sir Harold, Companion of Honour and pillar of the theatrical establishment. These days, he's even become an organisation courtesy of www.HaroldPinter.org, one of "about" 150,000 Harold Pinter references you'd find with a simple internet query based on his name.

It all seems a long way from Fifties Huddersfield when locally-born actor-manager Phillip Barrett introduced his new company to theatre-goers.

Mr Barrett took on the lease of the theatre which had been closed for three months and put together a five-week season of plays in the run-up to the pantomime season. His New Year plans were for twice nightly variety performances featuring a number of top-line stars.

It was news that caused a ripple of excitement among local theatregoers, keen to have the Theatre Royal open and successful.

The company put together by Phillip Barrett, an experienced actor, included a number of young actors with remarkable pedigrees.

Shirley Watson was just 21 when she arrived in Huddersfield to join Barrett's company. She was a cousin of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery and had been appearing in Laurence Olivier's stage production of Meet A Body.

Similarly well connected was David Tearle, a cousin of Sir Godfrey Tearle, the English actor who played opposite Edith Evans in Antony and Cleopatra to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

David Tearle had worked extensively in America too playing leading roles opposite Ethel Barrymore among others.

Phillip Barrett's new-look company also included a young actor called David Baron who was also flexing his talents as a writer.

The Examiner of November 19, 1954 said: "He is a novelist as well as an actor and is expecting publication of his first novel next year."

According to Huddersfield librarian Christopher Marsden, who has unearthed much of the background to Pinter's brief residency in Huddersfield, that novel had a long wait for publication in that form, more than 30 years in fact.

"It was published in 1990 by Faber and Faber in heavily revised form under the title, The Dwarfs: a novel. Instead Pinter turned to writing drama."

"The Dwarfs is a novel poised on the edge of drama. I think it is his only novel, written (fundamentally) in 1952-56. There is a reference to Huddersfield in an early chapter.

"It is sometimes difficult to follow because it is not clear who is talking to whom, who is responding and so on. The dialogue is brilliant, cranky, eccentric and there are thrillingly imaginative narrative passages," says Christopher.

It all sounds remarkably true to the style of dramatic dialogue which was to mark Pinter out as a distinctive and influential playwright.

Though Pinter's first foray into playwriting produced The Room, written in just four days in 1957 for production by Bristol University's drama department, he turned The Dwarfs into a play which was staged in London in 1961.

Things by then were faring less well for supporters of the Theatre Royal in Huddersfield.

Pinter, born in London's East End in 1930, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Central School of Speech and Drama. By the time he turned 21, he was using the stage name of David Baron and was working in repertory as an actor and supporting himself as a waiter at the National Liberal Club, as a dance-hall doorman, as a dish-washer and as a door-to-door bookseller.

He toured Ireland with Anew Mcmaster repertory company, joined the company of the legendary actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit in Hammersmith and played in repertory in many towns, Huddersfield among them.

On the opening night of the Theatre Royal on November 15, 1954, he and other cast members met the Mayor of Huddersfield, Alderman John Armitage and were pictured with him in the following night's Examiner, along with some encouraging reviews.

By spring of the following year, 1955, things were looking less positive for the actors and for the Theatre Royal.

A disastrous variety season had brought Phillip Barrett to his knees financially and he had little option but to ring down the curtain on his tenancy at the Theatre Royal. It was the theatre's second closure in eight months.

"Before Christmas I ran a once-nightly repertory season but all the plays, with the exception of one - Ladies For Hire - lost money, he said.

"It cost me pounds 100 to keep the theatre closed for a week during which the pantomime rehearsals took place."

The pantomime and the circus which followed, earned their keep, but the star variety season proved a financial killer.

"The first week when Anne Shelton topped the bill, I lost pounds 400 and the following week, when Frances Day was the star attraction, pounds 450 was lost."

Thirty-three members of theatre staff were given notice . The only good news was that Peter Bernard, with his wife Nita Valerie who were presenting repertory theatre with great success in New Brighton, began negotiations to take over the lease.

In the years which followed, David Baron faded into the background as Harold Pinter, writer and actor came very much to the fore.

And in Huddersfield? After some success with the Theatre Royal, Peter Bernard and Nita Valerie were also hit by the financial realities of trying to keep a repertory company afloat. The Theatre Royal closed and was demolished in 1961.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 15, 2004
Words:952
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