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Cottesloe Theatre programme notes, 11th May 2007


“If Jacques is right about the Seven Ages of Man, then having spent my first in routine mewing and puking, the second was not so much as the whining schoolboy, but as a thoroughly narrow-minded adolescent, so blown away by Shakespeare that very soon he had seen and read most of the plays aloud. So it was to my own satisfaction, unthreatened by any audience, that I had by age 15 played everything from the Bawd in Pericles to Old Adam, from Titus Andronicus to Falstaff’s Page – which I suppose has saved a lot of time learning the lines later. Perhaps I’ll do some of them this afternoon.


As for the Third Age, I was the lover al right, sighing like furnace over Mercutios and Richard IIs and Berownes, the great young lyricists I did at the RSC; and I went on to the military Fourth, it was as a hardened campaigner battling to assert my own views through my own company, the ESC. Just as in a war, this was when I really started to learn something; from playing in Richard III in East Berlin in 1989, towards the end of the Honecker regime, to an appalled silence, as if the sight of Richard’s iron fist gleaming inside his velvet glove was a daily fact; from finding that directing a Japanese actor as Toby Belch in Twelfth Night exorcised his instinctive dislike for English writers and directors that he had thought was permanent since the War; or from helping a 10-year-old boy play Juliet’s father in a London comprehensive and being amazed at how he suddenly understood the pain of being middle-aged.


Shakespeare brings us together, with each other and ourselves, and the fact is that I’ve been around the block several times with him, from Buckingham Palace to Her Majesty’s Prisons, from lecturing at the British Academy to dodging the rats falling from the rafters in Mumbai. So that is my – what?- Fifth Age, and never mind the fair round belly, I’m inclined to celebrate my prejudices and enthusiasms, my instincts about who he was and even a sense of fellowship with him in this new show. Having done another solo evening about a great writer, Anton Chekhov, I’m convinced that it’s best to approach these elusive figures sidelong; today you won’t be hearing a daisy chain of Greatest Hits, but some of his biography and mine, both giving rise to some fairly unfamiliar pieces as well as the justly famous ones.


As for the man himself, he just keeps on rolling; he’s more popular than ever. Renault and Levi’s use him to advertise new cars and 501 jeans. His words have been co-opted by politicians of every complexion – a desperate measure, since after all he never speaks for himself. Who knows how many books about the plays are published every year. I’ve done three myself, and my publisher says I’ll be able to do all 37, which only shows he has no sense of time. The M40 announces Warwickshire as his county. We, the television and the newspapers quote from him, knowingly or not, most days.


So although he needs little help from me, this show represents where I’ve got with him so far. As for the Sixth and Seven Ages, please watch this space.”

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