In Memoriam - 9th February 2007
It is with deep sadness that we learn of the death of Ian Richardson, the foremost actor of his generation. Ian died in his sleep, 9th February 2007. The news is a shock, particularly for anyone who saw Ian's final stage performances last year. Early in 2006 he played in The Creeper, and later joined the Royal National Theatre to appear in The Alchemist. Two roles could hardly be more different, and he was superb in both. His performance as Sir Epicure Mammon in Ben Jonson's masterpiece was a triumph, his energy and invention filled the stage, whilst his unmatchable mastery of the verse revealed the character as in a spotlight. The acoustics in the Olivier Theatre are notorious, but Ian's every syllable was as clear as a bell from every part of the house. Ian was also very much on form when giving a Platform lecture on 13th November. He was as always fluent and informative and inspiring. He revealed that he was going to have replacement surgery, and that the director, Nicholas Hytner, allowed him to sit down through one long speech because of the pain. We also found out that the piece of business that garnered the evening's biggest laugh in the play, when Sir Epicure attempts to impress a lady by swinging his leg over a chair in a youthful manner, had actually hurt on one occasion, and the director so liked his reaction that it was kept in!
For many years, I have felt very fortunate to have seen Ian's work since the late-1960s, and to have built up a treasure house of memories. I have also learnt to respect and admire him as a man with a warm and generous spirit, integrity and sensitivity. Our thoughts are now with his family, especially his beloved wife Maroussia, and sons Miles and Jeremy.
Michael Dobbs, author of the book from which The House of Cards series was taken, speaking in the BBC's "PM" on 9th February, described Ian as a "consumate actor"; he said he knew Ian was Francis Urquhart "even before he opened his mouth" when he first met him. Richardson brought "magic and majesty" to the role.
Nicholas Hytner, who directed the production of The Alchemist in which Ian scored a personal triumph last autumn, was interviewed the same day in the BBC's "Front Row". Hytner was a schoolboy when he saw Ian as Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor: he said "I still don't think I have ever laughed more in a theatre than I did then". He spoke of Ian on stage "soaking up all the light that fell on him", a phenonomen well-known to those who saw his performances. Hytner had seen him in a whole string of parts "in his glory days at the RSC, when he was the backbone of the company". Ian was "an enormously generous spirited man", said Hytner, "with a way with the verse that was inventive, light on its feet, and insightful".
The celebration at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, on 15th May 2007, was a memorable occasion. So many great names from the artistic professions were present that it would be quicker to say who was not there. I was especially pleased to see some of those who had shared in Ian's greatest triumphs. Dame Helen Mirren and Richard Pasco both had great on-stage partnerships with Ian in the early period of his acting life, and both spoke most movingly. The superb actress, Elizabeth Spriggs, who was Mistress Ford to Ian's Ford in Terry Hands' glorious production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, was there, also Charles Kay, who was Ian's Antipholus twin in The Comedy of Errors (like David Suchet and Maroussia Richardson, he had to dash back to Chichester for the evening performance of The Last Confession). From near the end of his career, there were Nicholas Hytner, who directed Ian's last great stage performance in The Alchemist, and Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Donald Sinden, who toured The Hollow Crown with Ian not long ago (Professor John Barton, who devised that recital, and who directed several of Ian's greatest performances, was also present). Donald treated us to a wonderfully funny description of a Noh play that had me crying with laughter. (It was Ian's favourite of Sir Donald's stories, although he forgot to mention that at the time!) Sir Peter Hall spoke of Ian's early days with the newly created Royal Shakespeare Company. I liked his telling comment that "Ian thought in lines, not words". I know that many people who could not be there were thinking of Ian yesterday, and raising their glasses to his spirit.
After the event, a collection was taken on behalf of the Denne Gilkes Memorial Fund. Denne was a much loved and admired voice coach to the RSC for many years, and worked with Ian as well as many other legendary actors such as Paul Scofield and Laurence Olivier. The Fund provides grants to assist students of music and drama. If you would like to contribute, please e-mail Jane Woolfenden.
Brian Sibley has already put into better words than I can everything I wanted to say. Read it here, (scroll down to "Our Revels Now are Ended").