Michael Gaunt

Fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The pandemic, as with everyone, restricted my activities throughout 2020 and into 2021. I continue to be responsible for Drama School Liaison on behalf of the Terence Rattigan Society; annually the Society makes an award of £1000 to a leading UK drama school to mount a production of a Rattigan play. The purpose is to introduce the next generation of actors to Rattigan and the rich acting possibilities offered by his characters.

The award, which is managed by the TRS, is made by Dr Holly Hill, a USA academic, in memory of Harold and Pegs French who had earlier assisted Dr Hill when she was researching Rattigan’s work: Harold directed the first production of French Without Tears in London in 1936. In February 2020 the LAMDA 3rd year actors appeared very successfully in a production of French Without Tears directed by Penny Cherns in the school’s Carne Studio Theatre. Previous productions of Rattigan’s plays supported by the TRS award have been seen at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, Flare Path, and the Oxford School of Drama, After the Dance.

Sadly, it was not been possible to support productions in 2020 and 2021, but being an optimist I am sure the TRS will be able to support a drama school production of a Rattigan play in 2022.

My research into acting styles of late eighteenth and nineteenth century actors who acted on both sides of the Atlantic continues and growing from this I have been able to give a number of talks and papers over the years. Most recently I gave a talk to the Richmond Local History Group (UK) entitled Edmund Kean (1787-1833): Shakespearean Actor and Richmond Theatre Manager Kean who died in Richmond in 1833 lies in a vault within the Parish Church.

Prior to this I gave a paper at a one day symposium – The Undisputed Monarch of the Stage (1717-1779) held in London by The Royal Society of Arts William Shipley History Group to mark the tercentenary of David Garrick’s birth. My paper discussed Garrick’s Acting and Techniques and how these may have been absorbed by following generations of Actors. The paper was later repeated as a Library Talk for members of the Garrick Club.

Earlier papers include: The Skull in the Glass Case; or, the Case of the Actor Who Lost His Head which I gave at a Society for Theatre Research conference, for which I was a convenor, held at Downing College, Cambridge in 2016. My paper discussed George Fredrick Cooke the first English actor to cross the Atlantic and star in New York in 1810.

My paper discussed George Fredrick Cooke the first English actor to cross the Atlantic and star in New York in 1810.

Prior to this in 2014 I gave a paper to the Society for Theatre Research – A Fatal Controversy; or, it Started with a Hiss. The paper considered the rivalry between English actor William Charles Macready and American actor Edwin Forrest which led to a fatal riot in New York in 1849 with many shot dead by the military.

Recent productions have been a rehearsed reading of Wrong Move by Peter Briffa at the Doggetts Coat and Badge pub on Blackfriars Bridge for the Terence Rattigan Society in November 2019.

The Lockdown also impacted on the Terence Rattigan’s Society’s (TRS) activities. Theatres continued to be closed and so in January 2021 the TRS decided to present a rehearsed reading on Zoom of Rattigan’s television play Heart to Heart from 1962 which had starred Sir Ralph Richardson and Kenneth More. I was asked to direct the play, this was a first for me – directing by remote control on Zoom! Two performances went out ‘live’ – one for Terence Rattigan Society members and one for Garrick Club members.

Prior to this, I directed a rehearsed reading of Peter Briffa’s play Wrong Move at the TRS AGM held at the Doggett Coat and Badge pub. In 2018 I directed A Streak of Pride by Darren Funnell and in 2017 The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan, both productions were staged at the Yvonne Arnaud’s Mill Studio Theatre in Guildford.

Following on from the success of Edwin Booth, a Biography and Performance History (McFarland & Co, 2013) in 2019 my friend Arthur W Bloom published his latest biography - Edwin Forrest: a Biography and Performance History (McFarland & Co, 2019). I was able to offer editorial support to both books. Arthur is presently working on a biography of the nineteenth century American actress Charlotte Cushman.

I have also been able to give editorial support to my friend Miranda Brooke who is just completing her biography of the actress Sarah Churchill (Sir Winston Churchill’s daughter). Miranda published her first biography Renee Houston Spirit of the Irresistibles in 2016. In the early days of my career, I was fortunate enough to direct both actresses in theatre productions.

In summer 2019 I completed my term as the University of Kingston’s external examiner for the BA (Hons) Acting course at the Kogan Academy of Dramatic Art in London (The School of the Science of Acting).

I continue as a member of the Garrick Club’s Library Committee.