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
Harold Pinter'sNo 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'sJumpers in 1972
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.
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
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