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As He Likes it

The Lady

1st-7th January 2000

For me, the best thing in the world is my relationship with my son and his children. Being a grandfather is wonderful. My grandson has a way of taking me to one side and talking to me quietly and confidentially. He’s four but we already talk man-to-man. My granddaughter is two. I look forward to in-depth talks with her.

Food and drink play an important part in my life, too: garlic sizzling in the pan; the first glass of white Burgundy at the end of a show; pasta with tomatoes and olives; a long lunch in a restaurant with nothing to do in the afternoon. I also enjoy cooking for friends.

I love Italy and France. A retired friend of mine lives in the south of France. He goes to the market every morning and he always cooks fresh food. I often wonder if I could live there and continue to work. But I love England and when I’m away, my nostalgia for it is very deep-rooted.

A few years ago, I was working in Chicago directing Twelfth Night, and I went to see the movie of Sense and Sensibility. It was full of grey-green Dorset landscapes, with dripping leaves – all terrible weather, really, showing those half-tones of colour that are very English. I sat in the cinema, weeping. If I left, I would miss not just the scenery, but the humour and the language, too.

London is very central to my work. I tried to be a countryman – the last decade was devoted to living in the country and it took me a while to realise that I was deceiving myself. It was too quiet at night and I missed going to the cinema.

I like touring – most of mine was done with the English Shakespeare Company. It was a very positive and enjoyable time. The pleasure of travelling was maximised by knowing it was my company and I had a real input.

The downside was that, because I had such a heavy workload, getting the show organised, dealing with people’s neuroses, checking everything was on course, and being the centre of everyone’s resentment, I couldn’t do as much visiting, or eating, as I wanted to do.

As I don’t like the sun very much, one of my favourite things is to look at a sunny beach or landscape, as long as I am under a shady tree, with a fan. I enjoy cold places – I have been to Iceland and done the Norwegian fjords cruise – and I would like to go on the trans-Siberian railway.

I’m having a lot of fun writing a book on Chekhov – it’s a kind of diary. Now I’ve been writing for some years, I begin to see myself as a proper writer and feel I have a right to the neuroses writers have – the ghastly solitude, the empty sheet of paper, the loneliness, the writer’s block.

I work with a computer – the joy of erasing the rubbish with a single stroke of the cursor is a favourite thing.

The writing complements the acting and vice versa. I love rehearsing with other people and being part of an ensemble.

Directing is interesting, but I don’t seek it out because it’s very solitary. I prefer being in the playground with all the other children!

My favourite time is very early in the morning. When I’m in the theatre, we have late nights, so it’s impossible. But at other times, I love to get up and look at the view I have of terraced houses in that false light – a mixture of daylight and street lamps. All is complete stillness, except for maybe a fox on the lawn.

Chekhov said it was bliss to be in your garden at five in the morning, knowing you don’t have to go anywhere and no one is coming to see you. That’s how I see it. I love the morning when it’s waiting to begin.

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