The Magazine

Man Onstage

The importance (?) of being Stephen Fry.

Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By KYLE SMITH
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Fry twinkles with anecdotes (we learn that outsiders to show business are “muggles” to the charmed circle). A first glimpse of Emma Thompson on stage delivers the insight that one of the best things a performer can do is to relax an audience, another to provoke a feeling of unpredictability. Thompson, he realized, could do both at once. Tom Stoppard appears, at a time when he “smoked not just between courses, but between mouthfuls.” Admonished by a dinner-party guest—“And you so intelligent!”—Stoppard replied, “How differently I might behave if immortality were an option.”

Neither the Wilde nor the Wodehouse has been wasted. “You will see therefore that writing, ghastly at the time but great afterwards, is exactly the opposite of sex” is a line worthy of the former, while P. G.’s spirit frolics in an aside about springtime amid the Cantabrigians: “As St. John’s College alumnus William Wordsworth put it, ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!’ He was writing less about May Week and more about the French Revolution, but the thought holds better for the first.”

Nor are Waugh and Forster, two more models, entirely absent here. Fry’s years on the Cam blended seamlessly into life among actors (“embarrassing featherheads and ludicrous naifs,” but kind, funny, and loyal) to create a never-ending tableau of comedy and champagne. Fry never grew up, never had to. Why begrudge this grateful child his many gifts? As he writes of dappled undergraduate days:

Blazers and flannels, self-conscious little snobberies and affectations, flushed youth, pampered youth, privileged youth, happy youth. Don’t be too hard on them. Suppress the thought that they are all ghastly tosspots who don’t know that they’re born, insufferable poseurs in need of a kick and a slap. Have some pity and understanding. They will get that kick and that slap soon enough.

Kyle Smith writes about film for the New York Post.