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I've loved the theatre since childhood and this page briefly describes my theatrical interests and experiences.

When I was young my sister Kate and I spent Saturday mornings for a number of years attending a class at the home of Mrs. Frith who taught speech and drama. We studied to pass grade examinations in which we recited pieces of verse and prose, and answered questions about voice production etc. Because of school exams, I dropped out at the silver medal stage never trying for the gold medal. A Shakespeare speech was always part of the examination curriculum. We also performed dramatic scenes in competition at local arts festivals, with some success.

My late dad loved the Shakespeare he learned at school in Ireland, and encouraged me when I became interested in Shakespeare. At senior school I played Ophelia and Lady Macbeth in my first two years with the (all male) drama society! When my voice broke, I played Clarence in Richard III, Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, and Hector in Troilus & Cressida (the girls school next door joined us for this production!).

I gave up acting soon after school, and now only take part as a member of the audience. But drama and especially Shakespeare has always been a very important part of my life.


In the early seventies when I lived in London, I saw a play nearly every week. For a few years I attended every production of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at The Aldwych, and of the National Theatre company (NT), first at The Old Vic and later at its own new theatre. There were some memorable Shakespeare productions, Peter Brook's Midsummer Night's Dream stands out, but also many works old and new by other playwrights.

Harold Pinter and Sir Tom Stoppard head the list. The first Pinter I saw in London was Old Times by the RSC at the Aldwych with Colin Blakeley. Soon after I arrived in the metropolis I saw one of the final performances of the original NT production of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Alan Ayckbourne's Norman Conquests trilogy mined the rich vein of middle class hang-ups.

Two of my most moving evenings at the theatre were however English productions of plays by US playwrights. Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Name Desire featured Claire Bloom as Blanche DuBois and in a quiet monologue brought me close to tears. Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night was an NT production in the West End when I saw it. It was the first time that I saw Laurence Olivier on stage and I learned why he had earned his reputation. A big character drawing attention to himself, but when that fitted the role then he was mesmerising. Nevertheless it was the production as a whole that was so unforgettable. The late Denis Quilley and Ronald Pickup were the other main characters.


Harold Pinter's No Man's Land premiered at the National Theatre in 1975 and I later saw it again in the West End. It turned out that Gaynor was as much a Pinter fan as I was, and so I saw it again for the third time with her. This first production starred Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson, a great double-act. Enigmatic, menacing and funny; quintessential Pinter. We saw a new production at the Almeida Theatre in Islington a few years agowith Pinter himself playing the Richardson role of Hirst, and the late Paul Eddington as Spooner, and in 2001 John Wood play a wonderful Spooner opposite Corin Redgrave's Hirst at the National. Still a great play.


When I saw the first production of Stoppard's Jumpers in 1972 at the National Theatre it starred Diana Rigg and Michael Hordern. While several actresses playing Dotty since have brought their own interpretations (Felicity Kendal was ideal), Michael Hordern was the definitive George. In 2003 Simon Russell Beale became the George Moore of this generation at the NT again. He continued his triumph in the West End and briefly transferred with Essie Davis' Dotty to Broadway.

John Wood's portrayal of Henry Carr in the 1974 RSC production of Travesties was similarly outstanding,and  though I haven't seen another production myself, I believe Anthony Sher was very good indeed a few years ago.

In February 1998 we managed to get two seats at the side of the Lyttleton Theatre balcony to see Tom Stoppard's  The Invention of Love. The play centres around the life and death of A E Houseman. The 77 year old poet (played by John Wood) having died, meets his younger self (Paul Rhys) at university and later in life. The text is very 'Stoppardian'; dense with argument and one-line jokes. As is usual with Stoppard plays we bought the play text in the National Theatre bookshop for later reading to pick up the references and jokes that we missed, but even so it was a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding evening. It's great to have John Wood back on the English stage. I hadn't seen him since Travesties.

In the summer of 2002 we saw The Coast of Utopia trilogy and in 2003 we twice saw Jumpers again, this time starring the wonderful Simon Russel Beale. The first performance we saw was a preview and suffered from a few technical problems with the set early on.  Our second visit didn't disappoint - it was still a triumph of writing and acting.

The real disappointment on that visit to the National Theatre was that Sir Peter Hall was giving a talk on that evening about acting Shakespeare, to launch his book Shakespeare's Advice to the Players. I didn't know about this in advance and would have really loved to be in the audience.  Instead I bought the book in the NT bookshop and queued for Sir Peter to sign my copy. Gaynor still reminds me of my carefully composed words of appreciation to him which came out as an insult! It's a great book which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in how Shakespeare should be acted.

Shakespeare and The Globe

There are too many Shakespeare productions to mention, but I find that two highlights in my memory, though recent, both feature Sir Ian McKellan.

His Richard III set in a Fascist 1930s was adapted very successfully to the screen. His Iago to Willard White's Othello at The Young Vic was truly outstanding. On the negative side I have to say that I did not feel that Romeo was his ideal role when I took Gaynor to the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford in 1976. And I'm afraid that the first time I fell asleep during a play was during McKellan's Hamlet in the 70's. It should have been the Hamlet of my generation, but somehow it did not work for me. A very sparsely attended matinee in a very large West End theatre didn't help. My favourite actor in my favourite play and I fell asleep!

I certainly didn't fall asleep in Kenneth Branagh's full length Hamlet at the RSC. He made it seem as though Shakespeare had written the part for him.

In the summer of 2000 I saw two new productions of the play in London. Mark Rylance gave a thrilling portrayal of the Dane on the open air stage of Shakespeare's Globe, and Simon Russell Beale gave us a very different Dane, slightly overweight but very fine. Why should I be the only reviewer not to quote the headline of a local newspaper review viz. "Tubby or not Tubby, Fat is the question." His performance won the the London Evening Standard award for best actor, narrowly beating Rylance.
On the afternoon before seeing Russell Beale's Hamlet at the Royal National Theatre I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. It is exactly what it says. In the first half most of the plays are merged into brief sketches incorporating elements from each. In the second half the all-male cast of three perform Hamlet three times! Now this may seem an impossible task, but to be fair they do enlist the help of two members of the audience. It's hectic and hilarious and by the end I had tears of laughter running down my face. A perfect preparation for the National Theatre production in the evening.

I enjoy reading about Shakespeare's life and times, as well as about his work.
In recent years I have taken an interest in the original Globe Playhouse where many of his plays were given their first performances. I am a 'friend' of the reconstructed replica Shakespeare's Globe Playhouse on London's Bankside, and since its opening in 1997 I have seen very nearly all of the Shakespeare productions and many of the rest. I've listed every production and reviewed most that I've seen. You can see them on my Globe Seasons page.

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Updated 21st May 2012