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Pakistan: I owe everything to him.

All art forms are unreal in some sense. They have their formal rules their conventions their preferences , June 27 -- architecture as much as painting. Each art form has its unique properties, but there is no art that uses time, space, gesture, movement, speech, colour, costume, light and music in the way that the theatre does. Things stand for things rather than being the thing itself; the stage can become a battlefield or a crypt. The theatre is an activity when the event itself, the performance, is influenced by, the audience. Without the audience a performance is as meaningless as a bicycle without wheels.

In my younger days we used to talk about Gielgud's Hamlet, Olivier's Oedipus and Wolfit's Lear. So far so good, but in the last fifty years or so the directors' names have been seen attached to the classics: Trevor Nunn's 'Hedda Gabler', Peter Brook's "Midsummer Night's Dream" etc.

The days before directors came on the scene are not all that distant. Until the end of the Edwardian era actors were happy to work out their interpretations for themselves. In fact they wouldn't have had it any other way; they would have thought it impertinent if anyone had tried to advise them. The supporting actors helped one another. None of them dared to suggest an alternative way of delivering a line (or not making a certain move) to the leading actors.

Even after the advent of the director in the 20th century, the big 'stars' of the stage never really bothered about him. When Lynn Fontaine (the grand dame of Broadway) was asked what her attitude to directors had been, she said, "Oh my dear I have always done everything my director asked me to do -- unless he disagreed with me." The great Edith Evans in one play had rather taken charge of rehearsals when a peevish voice came from the director, 'Edith, what am I here for?' "Oh we'll find something for you to do -- don't worry", she said without turning to look at him.

I have had the good fortune to work with many directors -- some of them were eccentric, some brilliant; some flamboyant and some who never raised their voice, -- but none so mercurial, so witty, so erudite as Frank Hauser.

Hauser was the artistic director of the Oxford Playhouse company. The Company had limited resources which meant that they could only mount commercially viable drawing room comedies that had been successful in the West- End. Frank had other ideas He wanted the company to create exciting work. His persuasive charm enabled him to recruit some of the finest actors of the day to come and work at Oxford for a pittance. He also had an eye for new talent. Sean Connery and Judi Dench -- to name but two -- were groomed by Frank Hauser. Within three years the Oxford Playhouse company had become a vibrant theatrical ensemble in England.

Frank Hauser's way of directing was to allow the actors free reign, encourage them to explore the horizons and then, during the final week of rehearsals, to pull all together. I found it the prefect way of working. Frank had been an actor himself and he knew that actors needed to investigate the ins and outs. He understood that they needed to be given time to absorb details and weren't necessarily able to deliver the goods first time round. He allowed each actor to find his own way, to make his own discoveries but being extraordinarily sharp and intelligent, expected them to do it without too much delay. And he was ruthless about getting rid of anything in an actor's work which was extraneous.

Hauser never gave his actors a "reading." After the cast -- books in hand -- had fumbled though the blocking, he would concentrate on relationships, unravelling all the details as he saw them. Actors offered their own -- at times highly intellectualised, at times pretentious -- interpretations and he was wonderfully good-humoured during these sessions. Later, with precision and remarkable clarity, he would give his own opinion and offer it as an alternative. When the books were down he would begin to dovetail scenes with one another so that there was a minimum break in continuity. He had an uncanny knack for stitching it all together. Frank never devised mathematical stage patterns or what is sometimes described as 'choreographed blocking'.

Frank Hauser has been the most important influence of my life. I owe him everything. I was invariably lethargic during rehearsals and he knocked lethargy out of my system. I would sometimes try to be a bundle of energy in every scene and he would tell me, later on, that it was "effort" and not the real energy that flows out of understanding and confidence. His encouragement transformed my work as an actor. He taught me to take risks.

In a play called The Guide in which my character was hardly ever off-stage, I had to tackle a huge monologue lasting seven minutes or so, a kind of a show-stopper. I used to give it my all splashing all over the stage. Frank let me muddle thought it in a few rehearsals before sitting me down and pointing out that I was not approaching it properly. I should forget going for the "peaks" and concentrate on the "troughs," the duller passages of the monologue. He was so right. I had been latching on to the purple passages like a child running after toffee. The moment I had succeeded in obliterating that thought from my mind, and moving aimlessly, the 'peaks', as he called them, just happened to be the natural continuation of the speech. On most nights, when I ended the monologue, there was a resounding round of applause.

Frank Hauser never got the accolades showered upon his contemporaries, the three Peters -- Hall, Brook and Wood -- although his productions were in no way less impressive. His intellect was so superior, his sense of humour so acute that he never bothered about it. He did not receive the knighthood which he so richly deserved but he never cribbed about it. His loyalty - and his generosity to friends in need -- was exemplary.

He was intensely knowledgably about music. I stayed with him, off and on, for weeks, sometimes months, and I saw that whenever his brow was furrowed or when he had something weighing on his mind he would sit down at his grand piano and rattle off a complex piece of Rachmaninov or Grieg. He would rise with sunshine on his face. Music relaxed him. It was an incredible feat of self-discipline.

When I rang him from Karachi last year the nurse attending him came on the line. She was apologetic; Frank was too feeble and she couldn't allow him to talk over the phone. He died soon afterwards, a lonely death

Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Friday Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 27, 2010
Words:1171
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