31 July 2015


My friends, my dear friends! Can I be silent, in leaving this house for evermore? Can I restrain myself, in saying farewell, from expressing those feelings which now fill my whole being … ?
Gaev in Act IV of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard 

I arrived back from New York last month not with a clutch of press cuttings, but heavy jet lag and hard copies of two editions of the New York Times. I suppose there must be hard evidence, too, of the twenty-two online rave reviews we received but, more potent and poignant, I carried memories of the lively, wise and witty audiences and impressions of the numbers of people we spoke to after the performance each day, fellow theatre folk, friends, long-lost acquaintances. There were people too who had simply breathed the same air with me in theatres – do I romanticize? Perhaps, but most amazingly, on one of the 59E59 nights, there was the Englishman, now American, who announced that he had met my late mother-in-law on a train from Victoria to Lewes, sat with her on the coach to Glyndebourne – both of them in their operagoer’s finery and alone, so they talked together, as theatregoers do, and spent the time before the performance in the gardens with the trees and flowers, their champagne and afternoon salmon sandwiches. She told him about her daughter Emily and me. He had seen an early performance, he told me, at the Old Vic of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1967; I think he had also seen Emily and me in Nickleby on Broadway and certainly later saw me in O’Neill’s Strange Interlude.

We had Mondays off and no weekday matinee, though we did undertake four shows in one rather gruelling weekend. So there was time to visit art galleries. Of special note was the new Whitney Museum situated in the Meatpacking District between the Highline and the Hudson River. It was fascinating to watch Americans viewing their own art and the turbulent history it recorded. An atmosphere of almost silent reverence prevailed, quite unlike the tourist bustle uptown at the Metropolitan Museum which houses the most astonishing collection of Impressionist paintings.  

At the Whitney. Photos by EP
One of Richard Estes’s photorealist portraits of New York City, currently on
exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle.
Photo by EP
It was my daughter Dora and her friend Ruth who told me of the High Line, a green promenade over a mile long, imaginatively reclaimed from the disused southern portion of the old West Side Line.

View of the Empire State Building from the High Line.
Photo by Kathleen Riley
Dora and I in Manhattan

With Emma DeCorsey and Ruth Johnston.
Photo by Dora Petherbridge

There was time also to walk in the heat and splendour of Central Park, always escaping to my subterranean air-conditioned dressing room on East 59th Street to rest and recover before the show.

Summer in Central Park.
Photos by EP
Kathleen and I in Central Park on our last day in New York.
Photo by EP
The mesh of connections is complex and it was especially apt that I should be reminded of East Sussex on East 59th Street; it so happens that Emily and I are moving out of our London home to a house on the edge of Lewes where our view, if all goes smoothly to plan, will be of Mount Caburn and in theory we might dress for the opera and walk towards and over that hill, hardly a mountain, to Glyndebourne, just down the other side. I say just, but a taxi skirting round would be wiser.

Part of the lake and grounds at Glyndebourne, taken on our visit 
in May to attend the first night of Poliuto
Photo by EP
However it was owing to the fact that Emily and I had had not only a steady period of work with the RSC in the late 70s to the early 80s, but had made television versions of the RSC Nickleby and Trevor Nunn’s RSC production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters that we were able to contemplate buying the house we are now leaving (those were the days).

Stills from the televised version of Three Sisters, with me as Vershinin,
Emily as Irina and Roger Rees as Tuzenbach. Suzanne Bertish far left as Masha
Emily and I in the garden of our West Hampstead home
a year or two after we moved in
Thirty-three years have passed.

I started boxing books and paintings before I left for New York and thought of the physical work as part of my preparation for performance. I have resumed my labours since coming back, being as ruthless as possible with the accrued possessions and junk. Kathleen sprang to our aid and did wonders with an impossible attic.

Talking of old acquaintance, I thought I must have lost this photo of The Soldier’s Tale. I almost threw out a seemingly empty brown envelope but luckily checked it first. There is the great violinist Yehudi Menhuin tucked into the corner.

Yehudi Menuhin, Sally Gilpin and myself in The Soldier’s Tale,
Bath Festival, 1968
Before rehearsals, knowing I had to mime playing the violin, I listened over and over again at home to a recording of Stravinsky’s tricky music until I knew the quirky rhythms and worked out my idea of the bowing before I had laid hands on the prop, mercifully muted, violin. This rediscovered photo is a favourite because it does appear that I am managing to dance and get the bowing more or less right at the same time.

Yesterday I came upon a quaint trophy given me by Caroline Blakiston. Appropriately it has a Chekhovian connection – Caro was after all the only English actress ever to play Chekhov in Russian at the Moscow Art Theatre, Carlotta in The Cherry Orchard. The item is symbolic of change, renewal and the detritus of the past, and is in a crumpled brown envelope that could easily have been thrown out, but it bears a handwritten label which reads: ‘Piece of canvas from Moscow Art Theatre stage cloth? gathered by me on my 1st visit to Moscow when they were re-building in 1982. And a fragment of floor tile picked up at the same time.’

Photo by EP
It is possible that Stanislavski, even Chekhov might have trod this particular patch of tile. Ridiculous to keep such remnants, to attribute mysterious qualities to them … or is it? Where does one draw the line?

Our daughter is here and at this moment is ruthlessly chucking out sketches she did at art school and putting books in the Oxfam pile; that’s the way! Oh for the life of a minimalist!

Examples of Dora’s artwork
But with handmade artefacts and what I think of as eccentric treasures, whether related to Moscow, Menuhin or Manhattan, one must be careful …

In view of the present preoccupation with boxing everything in sight and the impending move to Sussex, please note that there will be a short moratorium on website orders for the Slim Chances audiobook and NT50 special edition. These items will again be available to order from the second week of September.

13 July 2015


But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us ...

Today is the day of Roger Rees’s funeral in New York. He leaves behind his companion of more than thirty years and spouse since 2011, the writer and producer Rick Elice.

I simply want to post a phrase or two from an email I sent Roger after seeing him play Vladimir in Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket with Ian McKellen in 2010.
As you can imagine I have always fancied myself in your part since 1956 was it? I conclusively relinquished it to you tonight and was constantly surprised, disarmed and engaged, there is no one who can dance in the part and go into the fearsome shadows with your seamless ease … Your relationship [with Ian] is very believable and the audience love you both …
Roger as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot

12 July 2015

ROGER REES (1944-2015)

Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.

Late as it is, I must mark the passing of Roger Rees. I visited him when I was working in New York last month; he was in hospital and on the last occasion, just two weeks and a day ago, he was sitting up in a chair surrounded by friends. I asked if I might read from my book, part of the chapter on Nicholas Nickleby, the section entitled ‘In Praise of Roger Rees’.

Today Emily and I find words inadequate. We will only venture that a light has been extinguished, but those of us who knew him, those who ever saw him, will see the lasting afterglow.

Roger and Emily as Nicholas and Kate Nickleby

04 July 2015


If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.
Sir Nicholas Winton (1909-2015) 

Soon after arriving home from New York I heard on the radio the news that Sir Nicholas Winton, the ‘British Schindler’, had died at the age of 106. Sir Nicholas is, in fact, one of the leading lights of the book Kathleen and I are preparing on West Hampstead. He was responsible for the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the brink of WWII in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. He was born in West Hampstead and grew up at ‘Stonecroft’, 5 Cleve Road, a house designed by Banister Fletcher (whose monument can be seen in Fortune Green Cemetery). The house had some twenty rooms and many German Jews sought temporary refuge there from 1937 onwards. It was young Nicholas’s first-hand experience of their plight that inspired him to do something to help refugees and particularly child refugees.
Nicholas Winton’s childhood home in Cleve Road.
Photo by EP
In nearby Priory Road, Wellesley Aron spent part of his formative years; he rescued refugees fleeing the Holocaust, was a creator and teacher of courses on peace for schoolchildren, founder of Habonim, which became the largest Zionist Youth movement world-wide, and a founding member of the Arab/Jewish community of Neve Shalom.

Another West Hampsteadite, journalist Yvonne Mayer, worked with the largest influx of refugees in British history, the Basque children. West Hampstead also had a special school, the Sheriff Day Nursery in Sheriff Road, for children of families who had fled the Nazis. The principal was a Dr Lily Collinge who had a doctorate from Berlin and was herself a refugee.

One young refugee in NW6 who made a name for himself was the Austrian poet Erich Fried. He had been a child actor, the leading child actor in plays by Ferdinand Raimund. When the Anschluss occurred in 1938 he founded a small youth resistance group that distributed anti-fascist literature. His parents were arrested by the Gestapo for exporting currency and during the interrogation his father was fatally kicked in the stomach. Fried fled to London via Belgium and formed a self-help refugee group that brought seventy people to England before the war, including his mother. He took lodgings in an attic room at 67 Priory Road, West Hampstead, which he shared with another exile, Stefan Brill, and in which a group of young German and Austrian refugees regularly met in the spring of 1940.
He published his first volume of poetry in 1944. In the 1950s and 60s he worked as a political commentator for the BBC German Service and translated works by Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas.


People imagined they heard the actions they saw. The gestures alone supplied the place of the sweetness of the voice, of the energy of speech, of the charms of poetry.
Giovanni-Andrea Gallini 

A short film Kathleen and I made in New York, when I became an unofficial part of an installation by Parisian artist Philippe Parreno, his largest in the United States to date. The venue is the extraordinarily cavernous space of the drill hall at the Park Avenue Armory.

Part of the installation at the Armory.
Photo by EP
And another view.
Photo by Kathleen Riley