Lotte Lenya and From Russia With Love

Watched the last bit of From Russia with Love last night. Saw poor Vladek Sheybal get his come uppance all over again with a certain amount of satisfaction. He may have been an excellent actor but as a theatre director he was - how can I put this? - difficult. Challenging. Bloody awful to work with. Many years ago, I wrote a play about Solidarity (the original, Polish version of the movement!) and Vladek was asked to direct it. The whole experience was a nightmare.
Vladek rewrote my play. Then he shouted at the actors. Rehearsals were a constant battle. Not that the play didn't need 'development' because it did. I was a very young and inexperienced playwright. But Heroes and Others needed proper work, of the kind that my later play Wormwood got, in the skilled hands of Philip Howard, at the Traverse - a thoroughly enriching experience for me as a writer.
Back then, though, the whole miserable time was compounded by the fact that it was winter and we were rehearsing in what amounted to a derelict building, with lavatories that didn't work. Tension and dust triggered a severe bout of asthma. I can remember struggling through the Edinburgh streets, gasping for breath. With all the hindsight of age and experience, I should have made a swift exit stage left, taking my script with me, and (in view of my breathing difficulties) headed straight for the nearest hospital. Instead, I soldiered on, trying to rescue my original vision.
The play was not a success and the whole miserable experience put me off writing for the stage for some years. Now, however, when I look at the reviews, they were actually quite complimentary about my writing. It was the production they didn't like. Scottish theatre is a very small pool, and word had got out about the 'difficulties'. They were absolutely right. But at the time it seemed like the end of the world. All of which leads me to other 'end of the world' experiences.
At the same time as cheering Vladek's onscreen demise, I was trying to explain to my son about the wonder of Lotte Lenya (Rosa Kleb!) in her heyday. Somewhere, I have the Berlin Theatre Songs and the Threepenny Opera, on vinyl, with Lotte singing. Surabayah Johnny is my favourite: the most magical, heart rending track. And over the years, I've come back to it, from time to time, partly because it's so beautiful, but also because it's the embodiment of the outraged howl of every woman who has ever been loved and left by some man she thought she knew, which is probably all of us at one time or another!

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