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The Playwright

"He was an exceptional talent and a darling of a man." 


As well as his five novels, Robert wrote three plays with mixed success. here's a closer look at his stage writing.



Off the Mainland

Set on a Balkan prison Island, the play centres on three characters Sandor Rimini, Laszlo Rimini and Constance Rimini. An account of the brutal torture of political prisoners that spills over into a bitter struggle between one family...

Written by Robert Shaw



Robert Shaw

 Ralph Michael

Constance Wake

Venue: The Arts Theatre, London

: 8th May 19th June 1956


"Opens strikingly before descending into crude melodrama"  The London Times

"Builds up tension and interest with a skill that argues a genuine sense of theatre."  Punch


The Man in the Glass Booth


A Jewish multimillionaire poses as a Nazi war criminal so that he may be put on trial in Israel and give the Jewish people a face on which to project their fantasies of the most vicious, unrepentant Nazi imaginable.

Written by Robert Shaw from his own Novel
Directed by Harold Pinter
Produced by Ivor David Balding and associates
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Graham Brown, Michael Ebert, Ronnie L. Gilbert, Tresa Hughes, Paul Manfred,  F. Murray Abraham and Lawrence Pressman

Scenic Design by Ed Wittstein


Costume Design by Joseph G. Aulisi


 Lighting Design by Jules Fisher

Production Stage Manager: John Drew Devereaux

Press Representative: Michael Alpert

Venue: Royale Theatre, Broadway, New York 
Dates: September 26th 1968 - 17th May 1969
Number of Previews: 12
Number of Performances: 264

This, if you will pardon the frankness, is going to be a difficult notice to write. On the cover of the Playbill for Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth, which opened at the Royale Theater last night, is a diagrammatic picture of a man in a glass booth. The man is neatly split down the middle. The drawing symbolizes the play in more ways than one.

For one thing it symbolizes the hero---a paranoid New York tycoon put on trial in Israel, accused, like an Eichmann, of inhuman crimes against Jewry. For another thing, it symbolizes the structure of the play itself, for the two acts are very unequally balanced, and for myself I might have admired the second act more if I had admired the first act less.

Finally it seems to symbolize the success of the author himself, who appears to have set out to write a drama concerned with guilt, Jewishness, martyrdom and saintlike madness, and in fact appears to have ended with a simple melodrama, engrossing at its own level, and a fantastically effective vehicle for the bravura acting of Donald Pleasence and the subtly virtuoso directing of Harold Pinter.

The piece begins as stealthly as a Pinter play, as visually beautiful and dramatically mysterious as a Graham ballet. It is dimly lit, a robed figure prays at an alter, the air like incense, and around the walls strange cloud shapes are clustered. Suddenly the walls---which are louvered---turn outward to reveal the familiar New York skyline. The priestlike figure moves to his desk, puts on a jacket and is at once the multimillionaire financier and property tycoon, prince of Manhattan, creator of a whole empire of steel-veined palaces.

It is a superb opening, and from then on Mr. Shaw, Mr. Pinter and Mr. Pleasence surefootedly build the structure of the play. Mystery is piled on mystery, and yet while the purpose is still veiled, that there is to be a purpose appears clear. Arthur Goldman, 52 years old, Jewish refugee, widower, has in 20 years created a world. Eccentric, childlike, and yet with sharp shrewdness, Goldman is courted by his parasites, pampered by the acolytes of his religious millions. Whimsical and arrogantly sure of himself, he nevertheless has a fear. People are watching him. Forces are closing in.

He is arrested by Israeli secret agents. Instead of Arthur Goldman, he is, it is charged, Adolf Dorff---an S.S. colonel, torturer and killer. Goldman does not deny the claim. He lets himself be abducted to Israel (although an American citizen) and stands trial. Rather than denying the crimes he glories in them. He deliberately offends the slumbering conscience of a world by insisting on wearing an S.S. uniform and from a bullet-proof glass box in an Israeli courtroom haranguing the court and the world with childish boasts of atrocity and paranoid filth about racism and Hitler.

But the Israelis have the wrong man. He is a Jew. He is Goldman. And he wants to be a martyr---like a Christ killed for the benefit of mankind.

The difficulty is that the play never once convinced me of its basic premises. The solution is all too simple. How could the Israelis have made such a mistake? How could the court accept, so meekly, without a shred of supporting evidence the solitary statement of one woman who says she knew the accused? And such questions are not trifling, for they are what finally cuts Mr. Shaw's play down to size.

Engrossing the play certainly is. But it has nothing to say about any of the subjects it hints it is going to illuminate. For its pretensions are based on totally false premises---what it says happened could not and would not have happened. We are in the lurid world of melodrama. A world filled with clever-looking and clever-sounding props (an obviously fake Rembrandt or an account of Y.A. Tittle's last game with the Giants---and the latter from an English playwright who I suspect knows as much about American football as I do myself) and yet a world in which reality can cast no true dramatic shadows.

The play will, justifiably, be talked about. And much of the conversation will, also justifiably, be of Donald Pleasence and his remarkable performance as the paranoiac Jew. When I saw the play in London a year or so ago, I was vastly impressed with Mr. Pleasence. And now I am lost in admiration. The portrayal has the intensity of madness, it convinces against one's intellect, and it thrills with its sheer, remorseless virtuosity.

Mr. Pleasence starts slowly, marking with a studied jocularity the mild eccentricities of the rich. The Jewish jokes (which incidentally have been excellently conceived by Mr. Shaw) are given with a convincingly deprecating bitterness, and the growing signs of paranoia are sketched in with a lovingly clinical skill.

Then Mr. Pleasence takes off in flight. As the play, imperceptively at first, loses touch with life, so then does Mr. Pleasence. Now he is a monster, now the acting is melodramatic, but wonderfully melodramatic. A year ago Mr. Pleasence had difficulty with his accent---now this is perfect, and the change is typical of the honing process that the whole role has undergone. So that toward the end when the eyes glitter beadily in a tight-skinned skull, or, right at the conclusion, beaten like an old monkey yet still stubbornly defending his madness, Mr. Pleasence shows more than a touch of genius.

But then so does Mr. Pinter. He has directed the play with just the right regard for shifts of emotion that Hitchcock shows in the movies. It reminded me of what a fine movie The Man in the Glass Booth might very well become.




Cato Street

The Cato Street Conspiracy was an attempt to murder all the British cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister,  Lord Liverpoolin 1820. The name comes from the meeting place near Edgware Road in LondonThe police had an informer; the plotters fell into a police trapThirteen were arrestedwhile one policemanRichard Smitherwas killedFive conspirators were executedand five others were transported to Australia.
Written by Robert Shaw 
Directed by Frank Dunlop
Produced by Michael White with Thistlewood Productions and The Young Vic Company
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave,  Bob Hoskins, 
Norman Beaton,  James Hazeldine,  Malcolm Tierney and George Innes.

Scenic Design by William Dudley


 Costume Design by Deidre Clancy

Venue: The Young VicLondon
Dates: 3rd to 27th November 1971

"An attempt to ingratiate the work with latter day radicals" - The Spectator

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