Christopher Fry, Poetic British Playwright of '40s and '50s, Dead at 97

Obituaries   Christopher Fry, Poetic British Playwright of '40s and '50s, Dead at 97
 
Christopher Fry, one of the last modern playwrights to find success writing entirely in verse, died June 30 in Chichester, England, the New York Times reported.

Mr. Fry was 97 at the time of his death, and his moment in the sun had long since passed. But for a roughly a decade following World War II, he was one of Britain's leading playwrights, applauded for the beauty and probing intelligence of his sincere-minded plays, of which The Lady's Not for Burning is the most famous and enduring. In 1950, he saw three of his plays hold different stages in London, as well as an adaptation of Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon, presented by Peter Brook.

Along with T.S. Eliot, Fry represented a small movement to revive verse drama in the modern theatre; indeed, Eliot was the younger man's mentor and inspiration. One of his earliest play, Boy With a Cart, was influenced by Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.

That play was about a ninth-century shepherd who founded a church, according to the Times. Other Fry plays had similarly spiritual, religious or humanistic topics. The Lady's Not for Burning was about a woman who is accused of witchcraft because of the scientific experiments she conducts. Venus Observed tells of a Duke who faces up to his detachment from life. The Dark Is Light Enough concerns a Countess who finds herself in the middle of two armies.

Critic Harold Clurman said "The epigraph for Fry's art is `Shall we not suffer as wittily as we can?'...He wears his rue with a difference—of bright phrases, happy conceits and a rich heritage."

Christopher Fry was often lucky in his actors. His career zenith occurred at a time of great British acting. Paul Scofield played the lead in 1946's A Phoenix Too Frequent. John Gielgud directed and starred in Burning (1948), with Claire Bloom and Richard Burton in supporting roles. Laurence Olivier starred in the premiere of Venus Observed (1950). All of the above plays had productions on Broadway, with Gielgud and Burton repeating their work in Burning. Rex Harrison appeared in Venus and Katharine Cornell headlined The Dark Is Light Enough. None of the plays, however, fared as well as they had in London. The London premiere of The Dark Is Light Enough, in 1954, was his first setback. Critics said is was plot heavy, yet static. Other words his critics would come to use with frequency included: empty, placid, sentimental. Soon, the Angry Young Men movement of wild naturalistic playwrights were casting Mr. Fry as old-fashioned and precious.

He went on to pen adaptations of Anouilh's The Lark and Giraudoux's Tiger at the Gates. The latter won a Tony Award nomination. Mr. Fry wrote little for the stage following the failure of Curtmantle at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962.

Christopher Fry Harris was born in Bristol, England, on Dec. 18, 1907, according to the Times. He began writing plays while at Bedford Modern School. He through himself into theatre in 1929 after a brief career as a teacher. He tried everything: acting, directing, running a repertory company and, of course, writing.

Pamela Brown and John Gielgud in <i>The Lady's Not for Burning</i>
Pamela Brown and John Gielgud in The Lady's Not for Burning
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