Presented by an OffWestEnd OnComm awarded team, David Harrold’s play Villain In Tinseltown – ‘a satirical monologue and life warning from the legendary, Oscar-winning actor George Sanders – is the production reopening London’s White Bear Theatre from 18- 29 May 2021.
Skilfully adapted from Sanders’ own Memoirs of a Professional Cad, Harrold’s monologue offers insights from a vanished era, the Golden Age of Hollywood. Jonathan Hansler (The Crown, The Libertine (West End), EastEnders, John Cleese’s official Basil Fawlty) stars as Sanders in the piece directed and produced by Helen Niland.
“We were supposed to perform before Christmas but alas lockdown happened so the rather elaborate set has been standing collecting dust for nearly five months,” explains Niland.
“Finally, after an insufferable year locked away, we can all re-emerge into the light and hopefully do what we love the most – entertain. We’ve been toiling away during permissible lockdown moments directing, writing, rehearsing, researching, sound recording, building sets. Now, low and behold, we have a fantastic satirical monologue to perform from the Oscar-winning, silver screen legend George Sanders.”
Off-screen, Sanders was a humorous intellect with a sensitive soul. On screen, he played deliciously wicked roles, typecast perhaps as a villainous cad, a god, a devil, a critic, a tiger – a persona which became his mask. Famous roles included Lord Henry Wootton in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950) and Shere Khan in Disney’s Jungle Book (1967).
George Sanders commented:
“On screen I am invariably a son-of-a-bitch. In life I am a dear, dear boy.”
In a life full of contradictions, Sanders yearned for a simple life, yet starred alongside legends, hung out with stars like Marilyn Monroe and Yul Brynner, and married the infamous and extravagant socialite actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
In Villain In Tinseltown (A Warning From George Sanders) audiences will witness the outpourings of a debonair, out-spoken rebel of great insight – “Acting occupies such a tiny portion of my brain” – who is believed to have paved the way for later mavericks. Everyone wants what he has: why doesn’t he?
The problem is that while others enjoyed revelling in the absurdity of Hollywood life, Sanders couldn’t but help find it absurd, delivering cutting anecdotes and chilling truths without anger or apology.
His witty compassion to those on the receiving end of his acid tongue gradually unveiled a warning – to avoid alienation from what is real and to instead consider the pure “Art of Living”.
Feeling uninspired and jaded by his existence Sanders wrote shortly before his death in 1972, at the age of 65: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough.”
Director and producer Helen Niland believes the production offers a message that is just as relevant to 21st century performers influencers, wannabes and social media users alike:
“Sanders’ words warn us not to allow our own humanity to be eaten away by fame-worship and social media culture. To become who we truly are. To fulfil our potential with a simple authentic approach to life – or else suffer the consequences. Little has changed in 70 years of celebrity!
“His cynicism is highly amusing but the machine is controlling a world-weary man hidden inside his layers of success and charming frivolity.”
Joining Niland in the creative team are Yasser Kayani (Sanders’ assistant and co-producer), set designer Piran Jeffcock, sound designer Jonny Knowles, lighting designer Chuma Emembolu, Markos Plessas (technical operations) and Sam Harvey of Quiet Thunder Films (filming and trailer).
Full safety measures will be practiced at the White Bear Theatre, masks must be worn and there will be temperature checks at the door.
Villain In Tinseltown runs from 18-29 May 2021 at the White Bear Theatre in south east London. Shows are at 7pm and the running time is one hour and 15 minutes. Tickets are £16 (£12 concessions).