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Only by creativity and the risk of failure can one succeed. This book is the first attempt to trace the life of Terence Gray, a man who always wanted to hide behind masks and pseudonyms, whose death, in 1987 at the age of 93, was (therefore) not noted despite a life of great variety and achievement. He is only known today by brief references in theatre books and under his pseudonym of Wei Wu Wei. The son of Irish aristocrats, Gray was born in Suffolk and came to Wandlebury near Cambridge before leaving for short spells at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was a Red Cross ambulance-driver in France and Italy and an air-mechanic for the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. He became an Egyptologist, historian and author of plays during the Twenties before opening the Festival Theatre in Cambridge in 1926 with a sensational production of the Oresteia in Egyptian-style on a redesigned open stage and with the new electric lighting from Germany and with choreography by Ninette de Valois. The Royal Ballet of today has its roots in performances of the de Valois school and her arrangement of movement for plays at the Festival Theatre. Over seven years Gray achieved an international reputation, until eventually his little empire crumbled, culminating with the conflict between his own views and those of the student critics of the Cambridge Review. At just thirty-eight his creative life seemed to come to an end and, humiliated by a satirical revue put on by the Cambridge Footlights, he departed for the South of France to run the family vineyard and the racehorses which were kept in England and Ireland. His horse Zarathrustra won the Ascot Gold Cup in 1956 and the following year he married a Russian princess from Georgia. His new life really began in 1958 when he looked up at the stars and decided to become a mystic. Under the name of Wei Wu Wei, Gray published the first of eight books in his own personal style of Zen Buddhism.
‘Anglo-Irish plutocrat, the owner of Zarathustra, the horse that won the Gold Cup at Ascot in 1956, a recognized yet mysterious figure on that account in the Kildare Club and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, a sage who now has international fame under the name Wei Wu Wei, one of the leading lights of the theatre over in Britain under the name Terence Gray, a person who was half-forgotten in Ireland and in Britain until a biography was published last year under the marvellous title Only by Failure: the Many Faces of the Impossible Life of Terence Gray.’ —Gabriel Rosenstock, The Irish Times