Top positive review
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A wonderful story of the theatre and the people who inhabit it
on 23 June 2011
Freddiefs is the name by which the theatre school officially known as the Temple Stage School is referred to by anyone in the know in the 1960s. Dilapidated and old fashioned, it is kept running by the machinations, scheming and sheer force of will of Freddie, the proprietress. However, but money is needed and times are changing and Freddie must choose either to change with them or remain true to what she knows.
Penelope Fitzgerald has a very light touch. In the hands of a different author this could have been a rather obvious, plot-driven novel in which the children of the school and the famous ex-pupils rally round to save the stage school, presided over by an aged and eccentric Freddie, but Fitzgerald transforms it into something far more subtle about the characters and about the theatre for which the plot is merely a vehicle.
She has an uncanny ability to pin characters down with a few phrases. I knew exactly what the gloomy Irish teacher was like from just the following description: "He had no ability to make himself seem better or other than he was. He could only be himself, and that not very successfully. Meeting Carroll for a second time, even in his green suit, one wouldnft recall having seen him before." Who hasnft wandered out of a job interview feeling like that at some point in their life? It is sharp observations and precise characterisations like this that make the book so enjoyable.
Equally as important as any character in the book is the presence of the theatre itself. Fitzgerald writes about this with wit and humour, and displays both a genuine affection for the stage as well as an awareness of the reality of the work which goes on behind that. At Freddiefs acknowledges the rise of film and television as the dominant form of entertainment and does so with a practical manner which does not excessively romanticise the idea of the stage, something which seems quite rare in theatre books. It displays an equal equanimity towards the disparity between true talent and fame and riches.