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The Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company is at Harvard this weekend and with them is their director Jonathan Miller.
Miller is probably best known in this country for his co-authorship of and starring role in "Beyond the Fringe." He attended St. John's College at Cambridge and studied there to become a doctor. "I did some drama at Cambridge," Miller recalled yesterday. "It was mostly satirical like your Hasty Pudding."
He qualified as a doctor in Cambridge and soon afterwards, in 1960, wrote "Beyond the Fringe." "I was taking a three week vacation between two jobs when we got together to write the play. It was never intended to be a big thing," he said.
The play ran in London and New York until 1964 when Miller left it to direct several BBC productions, in-clouding "Alice in Wonderland," a modern adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. "I tried to portray the feeling of a Victorian childhood in it," he said "I wanted a Wordsworthian interpretation, connecting her loss of innocence with the dream of adolescence. I'm not sure if it was right for television. It was very somber and quite literate."
Since then, Miller has directed several productions, including Robert Lowell's "Promethetis Bound" at Yale in 1967. He has also written for several magazines.
He is currently writing a short critical work on the theories of Marshall McLuhan. " I'm not sure whether you can call McLuhan's ideas theories," he said. "His ideas are too contused, vague, and self-contradictory. Maybe that's why they're so popular,"
When Miller returns to England, he will direct Sir Lawrence Olivier in a production of "The Merchant of Venice" at the National Theatre. He plans to write a book on the rise of Victorian spiritualism, and also to diorite "The Tempest." "I don't really know why the Victorian period intrigues me. I guess it goes back to my mother-she wrote a biography of Browning. At one point, she actually got to dating cheeks 1856," he said.
Miller doubts if he will ever go back into medicine. "I'd like to teach someday," he said. "I doubt if I will ever become a doctor. I liked the Victorian image of a doctor, the isolation and solitude of your work. All science today has become too bureaucratic."
Miller feels that Britain's classical actors are better than America's because there is a tradition of classical theatre in England which Americans lack. "The classical theatre is borrowed over here," he said, "In Britain, it is indigenous, and there is an indigenous staff to perform it. I am afraid that you do make quite a mess of Shakespeare."
Yale vs. Oxford
While directing at Yale in 1967, Miller noticed ? great difference between actors at Yale and actors at British schools. "Yale's actors were not nearly as good as those at Oxford and Cambridge," he recalled. "Over here, you take acting much more seriously and in a strange contra-dictory way. I think it limits your acting."
Since he will be in the United States only briefly, Miller will have time for little else but drama. "However," he said, "I would like to tell all the teeny shoppers who have been stopping me on the street because I have a British accent, that Paul McCartncy is alive."
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