Self-portrait

Self-portrait

04 December 2011

LOOKING TO ONE'S LAURELS BY THE FIRESIDE

Youth, large, lusty, loving – youth full of grace, force, fascination.
Do you know that Old Age may come after you, with equal grace,
        force, fascination?
Walt Whitman

Photo by EP
I hope you won’t find it cloying when I say that it has struck me afresh what an extraordinary job it is being an actor and what extraordinary creatures actors are. In all modesty I exempt myself; for this is by way of being a hymn to young actors, whereas I find myself in the inescapable default position of veteran. 

The point I am making is how touching it is to find these youngsters so at home with their craft, plying the ancient trade in the time-honoured ways with such beautiful young heads on their supple shoulders. Transformation is their stock in trade. I noticed a moment when one of our young company failed, not for the first time, to find the right note to enter into a number. ‘Oh, how am I to get that!’ the actor lamented, suddenly looking tired, pale and disappointed whilst listening to the MD’s advice. But then, simultaneously, the voice successfully sang the opening bars and the face came alive as if some internal light had been turned on.

I was also touched today when, during a break, my stories of ‘the old days’ seemed to hold a young actor’s interest. I realize that it was the equivalent of my young self hearing the green-room talk of an old thespian harking back to 1910, only fifteen years away from the very first night of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Toulouse Lautrec’s watercolour portrait
of Wilde in 1895

In 1895 Wilde, comparing English actors with their French counterparts, wrote: ‘The English actors act quite as well; but they act best between the lines.’ (That was thought a modern fault in my young day in the mid-1950s, and still is today!)

Having praised the few English actors capable of the superb elocution of the French, ‘so clear, so cadenced, and so musical’, Wilde opines: ‘Yet there is more than one of our English actors who is capable of producing a wonderful dramatic effect by aid of a monosyllable and two cigarettes.’

Irene Vanbrugh as Gwendolen Fairfax and George Alexander as Jack Worthing in the 1895 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, from The Sketch magazine. V&A Images

Of the cast of An Ideal Husband, his current success in 1895, he wrote: ‘I am charmed with all of them. Perhaps they are a little too fascinating. The stage is the refuge of the too fascinating.’  

Put this fascination into a rehearsal room at ten in the morning after a long Tube journey, add music, composed and played by two young, good-looking musicians (we are yet to add the percussionist), add dance, and the effect may not be too fascinating, but it can lift one to what I would describe as a state of workaday euphoric.

_________________________

On Friday, Phyllida Crowden and her actress daughter Sarah hosted a lunch in celebration of the life of my old acting colleague Graham Crowden. Oliver Cotton read a witty and affectionate tribute, quite the height of the occasion, held in a lovely wainscot-lined eighteenth-century upper room in Lexington Street, Soho. I composed and recited this occasional little verse:

Click to enlarge.


Postscript
A few related links you might find interesting:


‘Hear Here for Gyles and Ted’, a blog by Michael Coveney


KR

1 comment:

  1. I think the term Veteran Actor could be swapped to Vintage - like a good wine! (before it goes off obviously!!!)

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