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Talented actor provides the Wright stuff for a classic

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.

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