29 September 2014


That best portion of a good man’s life
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
William Wordsworth,  ‘Tintern Abbey’

My Perfect Mind ended its run at the Young Vic on Saturday (our national tour starts tomorrow in Bristol). We went out on a high note and, in my dressing room before the matinee, I finished Middlemarch, which I’ve been reading on my Kindle throughout the run. If one is going to have nineteenth-century moralizing, surely there can be no finer or more convincing example than George Eliot’s. Her final note on that score is particularly impressive and moving. In considering her heroine Dorothea’s imperfect, unfulfilled life and its nonetheless incalculable effect on those around her, she perceives that many of us live lives of quiet inspiration, that the world is often changed by small loving acts of unknown people.
For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
This view of (West) Hampstead Cemetery, seemingly unchanged since the 
nineteenth century, is just a few paces from the little patch of meadow 
that is the haunt of the Gatekeeper butterfly.
There is an especially poignant example of an unvisited tomb, of an ordinary life of anonymous goodness, in our local cemetery. One day this summer, Kathleen and I located a gravestone we had read about and, having cleared away the overgrown grass, photographed the inscription which is written in Pitman’s reporting style of shorthand. 

Photo by KR
The translation is as follows:
In loving memory of Louisa, the dearly loved wife of William Day, who fell asleep in Jesus on February 21, 1905, aged 36.
    Weep not for me, my friend so dear, I am not dead, but sleeping here. In faith I lie, my grave you see, Prepare yourself to follow me.
Louisa’s husband once explained the unusual epitaph: ‘We had not been married long before my wife fell ill of consumption. She grew rapidly weaker and, not being able to move, took up the study of shorthand to pass away the long days. She became so interested that she asked me to learn shorthand, too, and so day after day I sat at my wife’s bedside while she gave me lessons. She had the most wonderful patience, and when too weak to speak would point out my mistakes by signs. I shall never forget those days, nor my wife’s delight when I gained a speed certificate. Shortly afterwards she died. I thought that the most fitting way to commemorate her was to have the inscription on her tombstone written in the symbols which she loved so much.

Hampstead Cemetery was consecrated in 1876, the year George Eliot published her last novel Daniel Deronda. Eliot herself is buried three miles away in Highgate Cemetery. The first part of the inscription is from the second and third lines of her own poem, ‘The Choir Invisible’ (1867) and reads: ‘Of those immortal dead who live again / In minds made better by their presence’.

Photos by KR
The poem ends:
May I …
Be the sweet presence of a good diffus’d,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.

Photo by EP
… or like the butterfly
Whose wing might cause the dreaded hurricane
Do our faintest flutters never die
But echo through the cosmos, and remain?
(Excerpt from EP’s sonnet for State of the Art, Part II )
See the News blog for reviews of My Perfect Mind and tour dates. And check back here soon for a belated film blog.

13 September 2014


Edward is one of Clive Anderson’s guests on this week’s edition of Radio 4’s Loose Ends. Hear him talk about My Perfect Mind which is currently being revived at the Young Vic ahead of a national tour this autumn.

Edward at Broadcasting House

The show has once again received rave reviews. Read Michael Coveney’s review for WhatsOnStage here.

09 September 2014


Esme Church
No gold medals were awarded at the Northern Theatre School in my hometown of Bradford, but the principal, Esme Church, a semi-retired West End and Old Vic actress who’d played Gertrude to Olivier’s Hamlet in 1937, took me aside to give me a pep talk: ‘You’re one of those students who one knows is going places.’ The Americanism was thrilling, spoken in her magisterial Edwardian English with the authentic ring of showbiz. Nevertheless I went on to miss completely the pivotal moment in twentieth-century British theatre. By 1960, seeking validation through a better agent, I sat in his spacious Regent Street office. Benignly he laughed: ‘You’re a throwback, a Leslie Howard type. I’m not saying there aren’t certain modern neuroses you couldn’t do …’

Portrait by Michael Boys

Earlier, in ’56, I’d left Esme’s school and got an interview with an agent in a minute office in Soho, regaled him with a speech from T. S. Eliot’s Confidential Clerk and a soliloquy from Richard II, after which he allowed his secretary to resume typing, saying: ‘You’re obviously West End material.’ Indeed he enabled me to play in a string of ‘West End Successes’ all thrown on in a week in that vanished treadmill, provincial tatty rep. I had the wardrobe, including dinner jacket, the knack of entering through French Windows equipped with the mandatory upper-class accent and optional tennis racquet. Rare excursions into the Bard meant two weeks’ rehearsal while playing the current Agatha Christie by night – rostra and staircases to negotiate, standing on two levels in tights, more wind in one’s sails for the verse.

As Algernon in The Importance
The apotheosis of this period was 1959, touring The Importance of Being Earnest in New Zealand, playing Algernon from Whangarei to Invercagill. The result of all this was missing the Royal Court’s ‘New Wave’ and the chance to use my modern neuroses and very own working class vernacular. But gleefully I quote Kenneth Tynan in an Encore interview at the advent of the National Theatre in 1963:
‘I would not like to cast The Importance of Being Earnest out of a cast of New Wave actors.’
Charles Marowitz: ‘What exactly does that portend?’
Tynan: ‘I don’t know. It’s a great problem.’
Cut to the NT 1967, my third year with the company. I was summoned late one afternoon to Olivier’s office in the ex-Coal Board huts. He already had his coat on, his chauffeur and car awaited outside as he handed me a script by someone called Stoppard, murmuring: ‘Guildenstern. Marvellous part. Marvellous play.’ Stoppard’s words scintillated all the way home on the bus to Peckham. I imagine I was thankful for the practice of playing in Wilde for three months in NZ, the opportunities to wear tights in tatty rep and in The Dream at Regent’s Park. I must have absorbed lessons in timing by touring with the glorious Dame Cicely Courtneidge, ignoring those involving her defoliation technique which withered any extraneous laughs threatening to burgeon in her vicinity. More recently I’d weathered the comic rigours of keeping my NT end up as Maggie Smith’s husband in Trelawny of the ‘Wells’ – enough to launch me into a Godsent play and a dream comic partnership with John Stride.

Photo by Anthony Crickmay

Today, on the crest of a new New Wave with Paul Hunter and the experimental Told by Idiot, I get to dream of and speak Lear (eschewing tights), use my contemporary neuroses and my native vernacular, mime, sing, paint …

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Lilian Baylis observed: ‘For all their conservatism, Old Vic audiences worship the god of novelty.’ Forget ‘wave’ and even ‘new’: what matters, as ever, is the shock of the Now.

08 September 2014


It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing ... A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. Its the best possible time of being alive.
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia

Photo by Kathleen Riley
Two months after first sporting my Slap Dash suit in the shade of the Burlington Arcade, en route to the Summer Exhibition, I returned to the Royal Academy to collect my painting. The pomp and ceremony and excited jostle of Varnishing Day were replaced by the quiet efficiency of a large ‘backstage’ area where, in a matter of minutes, I was handed ‘The Conductor’ carefully wrapped in RA-emblazoned plastic. Sans Slap Dash suit, but nevertheless cutting something of dash with my artwork tucked under my arm, I again made my way through the Burlington Arcade and past the gates of the RA, in my own little valedictory procession (captured on Kathleen’s iPhone), as the bells of St James’s tolled as if to announce the end of summer and the coming of Kiefer.

Photo by Kathleen Riley
It was not a sad farewell and just two days later I was rehearsing in Walworth Road for the revival of My Perfect Mind, ready as ever to set forth with Paul Hunter on the unworthy scaffold.

The Financial Times joined us one day to film excerpts and interviews for a ten-minute featurette on the show. Tomorrow night is press night at the Young Vic.

Summer may be drawing to a close but with George Eliot’s Middlemarch to keep me company on the Tube journey to Southwark and the Bard to speak each night, I might say with Eliot ‘Delicious autumn!’

Photo by EP of his Lear portrait painted in the show
(Saturday night
s edition)

Part Three of our State of the Art triptych has been slightly delayed but not forgotten. Coming soon ...