On the face of it, a play based on correspondence between George Bernard Shaw and the temperamental Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell does not sound like a tempting theatrical experience. But such were the literary skills of both characters that the actor and playwright Jerome Kilty was able to weave from the material a delightful two-hander, Dear Liar, which opened on both Broadway and at the Criterion in the West End in 1960.
Shaw, who was infatuated with ‘Mrs Pat’, as she was known, wrote the part of Eliza Doolittle for her in the original London production of Pygmalion in 1914. Their correspondence continued for 40 years, although the relationship was unconsummated. “We are like lustless lions at play,” Campbell once wrote. It was she who ended the ‘affair’, but the couple remained friends.
Since 1960, Dear Liar has been revived many times. One of the more memorable productions was staged at London’s Mermaid Theatre in 1982, with The Stage describing Robert Hardy as a “lively, sparkling” Shaw and praising Sian Phillips for her dignity and pathos as Mrs Pat.
It was the first of what Kilty called his “dear” plays. The others were Dear Love, based on the correspondence between the poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and Dear Life, inspired by letters exchanged between Chekhov and his wife, Olga Knipper.
Jerome Kilty, who was born in Maryland on June 24, 1922, died in Connecticut a day after he was involved in a road accident on September 6. He was 90.
Richard Anthony Baker