Peter's Top Matches
About Peter Lauderdale Daubeny
<The Times, August 7, 1975>
SIR PETER DAUBENY
A major theatre influence
Sir Peter Daubeny, CBE, the founder, and for a decade, the Artistic Director of the World Theatre Season at the Aldwych, died yesterday at the age of 54.
It would be difficult to exaggerate either Peter Daubeny's fortitude or the extent of his influence on the English theatre. After being wounded at Salerno in 1943 and losing his left arm, he did not enjoy good health and was often in considerable pain but bravely continued an abnormally active life. During the last twelve years of his life he spent the bulk of his time working in his World Theatre Season, travelling tirelessly all over the globe, like a theatrical Marco Polo, exploring the international scene as no impresario ever had before.
But it was long before 1964 that he began to change the face of our insular theatre by importing foreign companies. There are few turning points in our post-war theatrical history as important as the 1956 visit of Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, which shifted playwrights, directors, designers and even casting directors to thinking more in socio-economic terms. Kenneth Tynan had already written copiously about Brecht and Joan Littlewood had absorbed some of his ideas, but it was Daubeny who actually brought over three of his productions.
Born in Wiesbaden on April 16, 1921, into a military family with no theatrical connexions, Peter Daubeny spent a year training as an actor at Michel St Denis's London Theatre Studio, and in the summer of 1939 he was taken on as a student at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, but his acting career was cut short by the war. As a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards he fought with the Eighth Army in North Africa until he lost his arm.
He had already decided on a career in theatrical management before being invalided back to Britain. With some help from Ivor Novello he succeeded in mounting the first play to be produced in London after VE Day "The Gay Pavilion" by William Lipscombe. It came off after barely a month's run, but, having met S.N. Behrman socially, Daubeny was able to bounce back into the same theatre, the Piccadilly, two months later with "Jacobowsky and the Colonel", Brecht's adaptation of a play by Werfel, directed by Michael Redgrave, who also played the Colonel. Within the next four years, though still in his twenties, Daubeny was able to put on plays by Lonsdale ("Bur for the Grace of God", with A.E. Matthews), Somerset Maugham ("Our Betters"), Ivor Novello ("We Proudly Present"), Noel Coward (a revival of "Fallen Angels" with Hermione Gingold and Hermione Baddeley) and a successful thriller, "The Late Edwina Black."
His international involvements began mainly with ballet companies. Between June, 1951, and March, 1952, he presented six foreign companies at The Cambridge, including the Ballets des Champs-Elysees with Jean Babilee, Zizi Jeanmaire and Roland Petit, Katherine Dunham's company and a company from India. In 1953 he brought over Sacha Guitry and the American National Ballet Company. Then in 1954 he organized Martha Graham's first visit to London.
Before his first World Theatre Season was launched with the sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964 as a contribution to the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, he had been responsible for bringing a great many important companies to England. They included the Mozart Opera Company from Salzburg, les Ballets Africains, Jean Vilar's Theatre National Populaire, the Red Army Choir, the Compagnie Madeleine Renaud-Jean Louis Barrault (in a programme of four plays, one of which was Claudel's "Christophe Colombe" which gave London audiences one of their earliest experiences of "total theatre"), Edwige Feuillere's company, the Chinese Classical Theatre from Formosa, the New York Negro Ballet, the Moscow Art Theatre, the Comedie Francais, the Swedish Company from Malmo in Ingmar Bergman's production of Goethe's "Urfaust", Jerome Robbins's Ballets USA, Marie Bell's company in a Racine season and the Off-Broadway company in Jack Gelber's "The Connection."
It has been said that the World Theatre Season became one of the strongest justifications for London's claim to be the world's theatrical capital: this is true, but we must not forget how much Daubeny had already done towards establishing the claim.
There is no need to list the companies or the productions which have been seen in the 11 seasons he organized, but what is not often realised is how often they provided cues for English productions. Jacques Charon's direction of the Comedie Francais in Feydeau's "A Flea in Her Ear" at the National, and Zuckmayer's "The Captain from Kopenick" might never have been done there if the Schiller Theatre from Berlin had not brought it to the previous year's World Theatre Season.
Nor can it be fortuitous that the Royal Shakespeare Company's decision to revive Dion Boucicault's "London Assurance" was taken just after the Abbey Theatre from Dublin had brought his play "The Shaughraun" to the 1968 World Theatre Season. And it was after Japanese Noh Theatre had featured in the 1967 season that Peter Brook introduced Noh techniques into his work on "The Tempest".
When ill-health prevented Peter Daubeny from organizing a World Theatre Season in 1974, it became obvious that no one could step forward to replace him. Who else would have the flair, the energy, the devotion and the time to travel round the world shopping for productions? It was good news that the doctors allowed him to to produce another season this year, and although it turned out to be below the standard he had set himself, it should not be allowed to obscure the importance of his earlier achievements.
Made CBE in 1967 and knighted in 1973, he was also showered with international honours, the Gold Cross of the Royal Order of King George I of Greece (1965), Cavaliere of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1966), Gold Medal of Czechoslovakia (1967), Order of the Merit of the German Federal Republic (1971), Legion of Honour (1971), and Polonia Restituta (1974). Italy conferred on him the rank of Commendatore of its Order of Merit only a few days ago.
Sir Peter Daubeny published two books, "Stage by Stage" (1952) and "My World of Theatre" (1971). He married in 1948 and is survived by Lady Daubeny, a son Nicholas, and a daughter, Caroline.