Home. Introduction. News. Career. One Man shows. Books. Reviews. Articles. Contact.

Theatre comes before film for



www.portsmouth.co.uk, 2nd August 2008, Mike Allen


He won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Pianist and was nominated for another for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He also has a Nicole Kidman movie called Australia due out this autumn, although he has neither met her nor seen it yet.


But Ronald Harwood insists that theatre comes before film for him, ‘totally’.


He elaborates: ‘Winning an Oscar at 68 has given me a huge amount of choice in the film world. But the theatre is my main impulse in my professional life.’


And he uses the same word, ‘impulse’, about his Jewishness. ‘It’s nothing to do with religion. It’s to do with what one is. One always has the feeling, which my mother had in spades, that one will be asked to leave. That feeling of impermanence.’


Now 73, Ronald was born in South Africa of Lithuanian and Polish stock but at 17 moved to England to train as an actor. He then made his name as a writer with The Dresser.


Now his Jewishness is clearly a driving force behind his new play, Collaboration, which will be staged at Chichester this summer in repertoire with his earlier masterpiece on a related theme, Taking Sides.


That was about the post-war interrogation of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was vice-president of the Third Reich Chamber of Music.


The president was composer Richard Strauss – the subject of Collaboration.


‘The new play is on a much more domestic scale and is more the telling of a story,’ Ronald says.


‘Strauss wrote the Olympic hymn for 1936, which he hated doing, and had to write the ceremonial music for the Japanese royal family when they visited Germany.


‘Then they got rid of him because of his collaboration with Jewish writer Stefan Zweig on an opera.’


Ronald says he refused to take sides in his earlier play – and within two minutes he was accused by one theatre-goer of being too kind to Furtwängler and by another of not being sympathetic enough.


Now he is inclined to be more open in support of Strauss. ‘Would you have refused to co-operate with the Nazis’, he asks, ‘if your half-Jewish grandchildren’s lives were threatened?


‘That’s a tough deal, a dreadful piece of blackmail, and I want people to feel the human dilemma. Human dilemmas are what’s interesting in the theatre.’


Ronald has kept in touch with rehearsals for Taking Sides and Collaboration from his home at Slindon, near Arundel. He and his wife moved there after 11 years at Lavant near Chichester.


‘It is fascinating to see Michael Pennington, who was the American major in the original Taking Sides, now playing both Furtwängler and Strauss,’ Ronald reports.


‘And gosh we were lucky to get David Horovitch to play the major and Stefan Zweig this time. He’s a wonderful actor.’ 

Return to Collaboration