Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Profile | JAMES AGATE [1877 – 1947] | Theatre Critic

Saturday 2nd March 2002

James Evershed Agate [1877 – 1947] was the renowned theatre critic of The Sunday Times. He started there in 1923 and worked on the paper until his death in 1947. He was also known for his series of diaries (9 volumes) entitled Ego which covered the years 1935 to 1947. A sharp and spiky reviewer, it was difficult to please him and he considered only Sarah Bernhardt and Henry Irving to be touched with greatness. His sister, May, had worked with Bernhardt in London and Paris as well as studying under her.

R C Sheriff’s famous play set in the trenches of the Great War, Journey’s End, might not have enjoyed the success it eventually claimed were it not for the fact that Agate promoted it during one of his fortnightly talks for the BBC in 1928. He said he considered it too good a play for the theatre-going public which, of course, prompted a stream of hate mail, and all-comers besieging the box office.

An example of his acerbic way with words can be seen in his review of Charles Laughton as Henry VIII in 1933: ‘Mr Laughton came to Sadler’s Wells with all his blushing film vulgarities thick upon him.’

Like many critics, he tried his hand at playwriting but the audience were vociferous in their disapproval when he went on stage after the first performance of Blessed Are the Rich at the Vaudeville. The production closed after less than two weeks and his victims had a field day.

Sarah Vernon © 2002

Bibliography
The New Penguin Dictionary of the Theatre 1988
The Cassell Companion to Theatre 1997
The Concise Companion to the Theatre, OUP 1972

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