27 October 2014


My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days …
Dylan Thomas, ‘Poem in October’

An experiment in pastiche to mark the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth.

‘Dylan Thomas, the other speaker on this occasion, was equally as evocative as Dr Sitwell, with his more rhetorical and annunciatory lines … “There were great oscillations of temperature … You knew there had once been warmth.” It was a joy and a privilege to hear the English language spoken with Dr Sitwell’s and Mr Thomas’s intense feeling for the beauty of words.’ (Neville Cardus, ‘The Story of Hiroshima in Music: Setting of Edith Sitwell’s “Shadow of Cain”’, Guardian, 18 November 1952)

Portrait of Dylan Thomas by Rupert Shephard, 1940

20 October 2014


‘Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse’
by Joshua Reynolds (1784)
Last week in Leeds, while staying at the Ibis hotel a short walk from the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I was astonished to learn that the manager of the sister hotel across town was a Mrs Sarah Siddons. The Mrs Siddons, the great eighteenth-century tragedienne, first appeared in Leeds in 1786 and seems to have subscribed to actor-manager Wilkinson Tate’s view that Leeds was ‘the actor’s Botany Bay’. Her opinion was no doubt influenced by the following unfortunate incidents:

During an engagement at Leeds she played with the elder Mathews, who describes what she suffered from the barbarous frequenters of the galleries. When she was about to drink the poison, one called out, ‘Soop it oop, lass!’ When she was playing the ‘sleeping scene’ in Macbeth, a boy, who had been sent for some porter, walked on to the stage and presented it to her. In vain the great actress motioned him away; in vain hoarse voices called him off. The house roared; the whole play was spoiled. No wonder, when the curtain came down, on the last night of her engagement at Leeds, that she said, ‘Farewell, ye Brutes!’ (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1872)

Up until last week, I too might have had my doubts about Leeds, but My Perfect Mind was most warmly received by wonderfully witty and sophisticated audiences at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Paul Hunter and I have been gratified indeed by the lovely ‘tweets’ about the show and to know that people continue to find such a profound connection with it:

Still basking in the pure unadulterated joy of ystrday’s My Perfect Mind frm ‪@toldbyanidiot93 If you only see 1 show this year make it this.

That was just possibly the most brilliant thing I’ve seen this year (and I’ve seen a lot of brilliant shows recently). ‪#MyPerfectMind

So many comic, poignant and meta-theatrical layers to ‪#MyPerfectMind that I want to go straight back to ‪@WYPlayhouse and watch it again.

ICYMI ‪#MyPerfectMind ‪@tftheatres is a joy of a show full of theatrical anecdote that thrills. 

Lear self-portrait, West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Photo by EP
Last Thursday I did a Desert Island Discs-style interview for BBC Radio Leeds, choosing pieces of music with special associations for me – quite a few of them to do with my boyhood in Bradford, just eight miles away.

Mural of Leeds-born Alan Bennett on the wall of the BBC
building in Leeds. In 2000, I appeared as Sir Anthony Blunt in
Bennett’s A Question of Attribution. Photo by EP
An afterword or two on Sarah Siddons. Some years ago I met her great-great-great-great-grandson, Michael Corby, founder of the 1970s group The Babys and son of the founder of the Corby trouser press company.

Portrait of Dibdin by J. Young
And, as always, there’s a link to West Hampstead. The prolific dramatist and godson of David Garrick, Thomas John Dibdin (1771-1841), who had a cottage at West End (as it then was), played Cupid at the age of four to Mrs Siddons’s Venus in Garrick’s revival of his Shakespearean pageant The Jubilee ‎at Drury Lane.

This week we travel north again, to Liverpool where we played last March at the Unity Theatre and where I made this little film as a memento of the tour.


    With his chaste designs
    On classical lines,
    His elegant curves and neat inclines.
    For all day long he’d measure and limn
    Till the ink gave out or the light grew dim ...
Hugh Chesterton, ‘London Calling Christopher Wren’

A few photos in honour of Sir Christopher Wren, born 382 years ago today.
49 Bankside, Cardinal’s Wharf.
Photo by EP
It is said that Christopher Wren stayed here so that he could have an overview of the City of London and of the church spires and towers and the dome of St Paul’s rising above the houses as London was rebuilt after the Great Fire – a claim now challenged. It is also said that, in an earlier house on this site, Catherine of Aragon rested before she went up the Thames to meet her husband-to-be, Henry VIII.
Photo by EP
The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren. 
Photo by EP
Speaking of Henry VIII, in 1546 he founded Christ Church College, Oxford and 135 years later Wren designed the college’s famous bell tower. ‘Great Tom’ is still sounded 101 times each night at 21:05 ‘Oxford time’, i.e. five minutes past 21:00 GMT, the time when the original 101 students were called back for curfew.
Tom Tower, Christ Church College, Oxford
Photo by Kathleen Riley
The roof in the foreground is part of Christ Church Cathedral School, birthplace in 1893 of Dorothy L. Sayers whose Lord Peter Wimsey proposed (finally and successfully) to Harriet Vane in the shadow of Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre – and with the very word uttered for centuries inside the Sheldonian, ‘Placetne?’