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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Cecil Beaton’s Diaries

Richard Stirling

Genre: Biography, Solo Show

Venue: Greenside at Nicolson Square


Low Down

For the first time ever, the diaries of photographer and stylist Sir Cecil Beaton are dramatised for the stage. Beaton’s society photographs flattered their subjects; his diaries did not. His wartime photographs showed his versatility; his diaries show the cost.


“be daring, be different, be impractical”, Cecil Beaton

Well the great man was all of those things – and much more.  Arguably his best remembered work now is the iconic black and white “Ascot” dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film version of “My Fair Lady”, but there was so much more to Beaton than fashion.

Beaton had an innate talent for photography that he was able to adapt to any situation, whether it be his early experiments of photographing his sisters as reflected in the lid of a grand piano, portraiture of various forms of royalty – both real and Hollywood, or devastatingly moving photographs of London and its people during the Blitz.  His eye was sympathetic to each and every one of his subjects.  Not so his character.  It would appear from Richard Stirling’s play that Beaton’s other major talent was for alienating people.  He sabotaged his relationship with Garbo, antagonised Coward and made no secret of what he felt about the Burtons!

In this one man tour de force lasting just under an hour, Stirling brings to life a waspish, insecure character with an amazing ability for self destruction.  The performance is sensitive and appealing, which is just as well as Beaton himself said “I can’t afford a whole new set of enemies”.

Set in a black box with minimal props and a “set” of just 4  small pieces of furniture and a projection screen this event is excellent storytelling. The projections, which include a mixture of lesser-seen photographs, together with some very famous shots, serve to illustrate and do not fall into the trap of distracting the audience.

Beaton’s personal life is portrayed as unsucccessful as his professional life was successful.  Not the favourite son of his parents, bullied at school by one of the most famous authors of the 20th century and unlucky in love, he was full of self-doubt and this negativity resulted in his taking offence where probably none was intended, be it from his landlord, Prince Philip, or even Timothy the cat.  Stirling’s Beaton takes offence with a great deal of panache, ageing from schoolboy to elderly gentleman with ease and style.  The play is amusing and moving by turns and is an excellent snapshot of the glamour of life in the upper echelons of society in the first half of the 20th century and a superb study in loneliness.

In the courtyard outside the venue is a bench inscribed “if you can’t love yourself how in in the hell u gon love somebody else”.  It could have been written for Beaton.