Review by Paul Nelson
MY theatregoing days stretch back too far, I fear. A zealous
uncle took me regularly as a child to all the plays he thought
major events. As a result, I witnessed Olivier's Oedipus Rex
coupled with Mr Puff in Sheridan's The Critic, and anything
else my uncle thought a Good Thing for a growing mind.
I have enjoyed almost all theatregoing experiences since and
I still get that constriction in the chest and throat as the curtain
rises (if it does these days) and the delight to see that, when
the actors are revealed, unlike the cinema, they are Real!
The best of what I have missed, an experienced actor talking
with charm and authority about the theatre and in particular Shakespearean
theatre, was taken care of this week, when I went to the Greenwich
Playhouse to see a hitherto virtually unsung theatrical evening
with an actor of considerable skill, denigrating his own talents
and musing on various heady anecdotes about the people he encountered,
and a few he had heard about and thought fit to recount, as he
clawed his way up the ladder.
That may be putting it a little on the strong side. Top of the
ladder should be stardom. In this case, top of the ladder means
he is a formidable talent, a complete actor capable of holding
an audience in thrall.
What an evening it turned out to be.
Shaking Spears for Shakespeare, as the leaflet tells us,
is based on anecdotes and stage gossip and looks at Shakespeare
through the eyes of the minor characters, as once played by Brian
Wright, the experienced actor I mentioned above.
The man is amazing. Oh that he was responsible for bringing Shakespeare
to pupils at school. Our country's theatrical literary heritage
would be secure for at least another 200 years. The man is riveting.
He begins, naturally enough, with his first professional role.
In Richard III, a halberdier has the one line, "My
lord, stand back and let the coffin pass."
With hysterically funny recounting, Mr Wright goes through the
various ways the line could be said depending on how one sees
the character of the halberdier.
Rather ruefully, he observes, after having destroyed his audience
with the various readings, that the director wasn't particularly
interested in how the line was said, as long as it was said and
he could get on with the play.
Mr Wright blew his chance (with a spoonerism) and the line went
to the other coffin bearer.
This delight and concern in his chosen profession permeates the
entire evening, and whilst it has its serious moments, he cares
about the theatre, the majority of the anecdotes bring tears of
laughter to the eyes.
His shy reminiscences; this director, that star, in all cases
he refuses to be drawn and name them but to the astute it is naughtily
apparent as to whom he refers, make the evening one to be remembered
with relish for ages to come.
The whole evening passes in the twinkling of an eye, and though
his audience wanted it to go on forever, as Nanny said, all good
things must come to an end.
Well, Nanny was wrong. The evening and performance will remain
with me for a very long time.
Mr Wright has a beautiful voice, an even more beautiful personality,
and the wherewithal to deliver all the goodness of those attributes
to an audience.
I loved his reminiscences, his naughty glint in the eye, his
great ability to dance from one characterisation to another, and
his total command of his trade.
His versatility is such that I long to see him contain and condense
all those different excellent characterisations into one single
performance, in other words, will somebody tell me when he is
in a play operating with all that brilliance on one single part?
I will be there to see it, though I suspect with his prodigious
talent the performance will be different every night and one would
have to book a season ticket. The man has more skill than many
a company of today's actors.
Shaking Spears for Shakespeare by Bardy Maguire, adapted and
presented by Brian Wright. Directed by Matthew Walters. Presented
by Kingsley Productions at the Greenwich Playhouse, Greenwich
Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London SE10 until
September 28. Tickets 020 8858 8256.