Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Peter Lorre in Cardiff

In the summer of 1949 Hollywood great Peter Lorre did a week of performances at the New Theatre, Cardiff. He took Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Tell-Tale Heart and turned it into a dramatic monologue. It’s the story of a killer who is overwhelmed by his own guilty conscience. Each night Lorre, it is said, managed to convey a scene of “terrifying emotion”.

His New Theatre shows were, apparently, his first ever on the British stage. But this was no theatrical triumph. Post-WW2, Lorre’s career was already in steady decline. In Cardiff, for instance, he topped a variety bill that included a cartoonist, acrobats, and a ventriloquist. A far cry from his classic roles in films like M and The Maltese Falcon.

Lorre played down the celebrity angle of his Welsh shows. He told reporters: “I don’t want my stage appearances to be construed as mere personal appearances.“ Rather unconvincingly he asserted that this tour was an experiment to prove that variety audiences can appreciate classics of world fiction.

Lorre was accompanied on tour by his wife, the actress Kaaren Verne (they divorced the following year). At the press showing they were photographed together with the deputy Lord Mayor of Cardiff and his wife. In the picture published in the Western Mail (12/7/49) Lorre stands on the periphery of the group wearing that nervous, put-upon expression so familiar to fans of his films. It was almost as if he didn’t want to be there.