21 November 2010

Leaving the World a Better Place

Talking to A. N Wilson about TOLSTOY last night was an eerie experience. It was one hundred years since the death of the great Russian novelist and reformer and our venue to reflect on his achievements was the magnificent and newly restored Normansfield Theatre at Teddington, completed in 1868 just as Tolstoy was finishing War and Peace to be published the following year, 1869. As we sat beneath the backdrop of an idyllic woodland scene with panels of Ruddigore along the walls, I was constantly reminded that this theatre represented the life's work of Dr John Langdon Down, a pioneer doctor who believed, radically for the time, that children with learning difficulties responded well to working on stage and with a variety of theatrical entertainments. He and his wife Mary worked together in this venture, living on site and sinking their own small fortune into the Theatre. Although he gave his name to the condition known as Down's Syndrome, he has been neglected by medical historians and is hardly known today. Yet he was born in November 1928, just a few weeks after Lev Tolstoy, and like him he worked to improve the world. Both were concerned with the education of children and desperately cared about improving the condition of the disadvantaged, both worked together with their wives yet Sofya Tolstoy as her recently published diaries show was a desperately unhappy woman. Mary Langdon Down a deeply fulfilled one. How sad that the world knows so little about this extraordinary pair of reformers. I hope to be in this wonderful theatre again and soak up some more of its sparkling atmosphere.

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