I am saddened to hear of Susannah York’s death. Her special radiance survives in her film performances, but just now I am remembering watching her from the wings one night in Stratford, being superlative as she spoke Gertrude’s speech, ‘There is a willow grows aslant a brook’ (Hamlet Act IV, sc.vii), describing Ophelia’s death to Laertes and the King. It is a justly famous purple passage, but all the more difficult to let it seem, as well as beautiful, poignant and dramatic, a natural progression in the story – the Queen describing a catastrophe she has just witnessed to Ophelia’s brother and her own husband.
|Alex Jennings (Hamlet) and Susannah York (Gertrude), RSC, 1997.|
That same year in Stratford, she played Mistress Ford to my Master Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
I last worked with Susannah in 2007 when we found ourselves with that special actor’s warmth and affection that rekindles when looking back on old and perhaps difficult times. We did a public ‘rehearsed reading’ together of the musical Alvaro’s Balcony at Her Majesty’s Theatre; I think it was just one read-through, a cup of tea and then we had an invited audience. I was impressed, as we chatted between times, that she seemed to be working for important causes. Although she was not in the least ‘starry’; on the contrary, down to earth, rather inclined to be a little nervous but with the right kind of humility. She managed that day, with seeming ease, to pull out of the bag an authoritative and charismatic performance.