Friday, 1 November 2013

Richard II

"In a theatre, the eyes of men, after a well-graced actor leaves the stage, are idly bent on him that enters next," says York in Richard II. Currently, however, eyes (not only of men) are far from idly bent on David Tennant's performance as the King: we have tickets for the live relay in a fortnight, the first such from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. There are queues for returns at the box office, and that will no doubt also be the case at Cineworld.

On Radio 4's Today programme, Maroussia Frank and David have just been talking to Rebecca Jones about the large ring David is wearing as Richard. Maroussia had inherited it from her husband Ian Richardson, who wore it in the iconic 1974 John Barton production, where he alternated with Richard Pasco in the roles of king and usurper: she felt it appropriate that a second Scottish RSC "Richard" should have it, especially - no doubt - bearing in mind that Ian's ashes are interred beneath that very stage on which David Tennant ("son" of Richardson, as it were) has next entered.

As a car-less tour guide at Charlecote Park in the early Summer of 1962, I made it my business to be especially nice to the last party I was taking round in case I could cadge a lift from one of them, back to Stratford. From there, it was usually easy to hitchhike home. One sunny afternoon, some actors were in this final posse, and I ended up with one of them in his Austin A30.

From a stage photograph I spied in the glove compartment, I realised it was Ian Richardson: though I had seen him several times in plays at Stratford, I would hardly have recognised him. "That was a bit of a matinée performance you gave us, I thought." He spoke in a soft, Scottish accent, quite different from his evil-sounding Don John or high-pitched Oberon. ("I had great difficulty persuading Peter Hall that I was right for this part," he told me: Titania was Judi Dench, Helena, Diana Rigg, etc. etc.)

I had asked for a lift to Stratford, but having explained that I lived at Arrow, Ian offered to take me the extra eight miles home. "Would you like to come in?" my father asked him, when we arrived. "Why not?" he replied. After two gins, my parents apologised, "but we are all now due to go for a drink up at Oversley Castle... perhaps you would like to come too?" "Why, yes," was the eager response, and so it was that we had the pleasure of Ian's company for the evening: as it progressed, so his tongue loosened.

I went back stage a few times after seeing him perform subsequently, the final occasion - shortly before his too early death - being after a reading of Shakespeare's Sonnets in our Town Hall. Never, of course, did I quite manage to recapture the easy atmosphere of that Summer evening.

My photograph was taken in Bristol Cathedral on Monday: there are a number of fragments of mediaeval glass preserved there. "Within the hollow crown, that rounds the mortal temples of a king, keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp." One might almost suppose that Shakespeare wrote these lines having visited Bristol and seen this curious image.

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