Ian Richardson - Stage work

reviews/pictures - The Alchemist

Mind the gap - Impressions of a day in London devoted to Ian Richardson.

Aside from a short stay between flights at Heathrow more than 10 years ago, this was my frst visit to London. And it won´t have been my last. Coming with the coach from Stansted and after making our way through the outer areas of this magnificent metropolis, the first thing I saw was the Tower of London, then Tower bridge, and as we were crossing the river again, the most impressive sight of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament before me. In that very moment a circle was almost completed. A circle that had its starting point in the opening shots of the Houses of Parliament in The House of Cards and would be completed by attending a performance by Ian Richardson at the Royal National Theatre.
After settling at the hotel and riding the tube back into the city my girlfriend and I chose to take the walking route from the Enbankment across Hungerford Bridge to the NT. The air was surprisingly warm and the theatre beautifully lit and I was extremely nervous because a small chance existed I could actually meet Ian Richardson after the show. But first we had to pick up the tickets for the platform with Ian and the performance of The Alchemist, then we searched for the stage door, and after finding it, handed a note for Ian to the staff. Then we went to the Olivier stalls and took our seats for the platform appearence.
The stage was set for the play, the stalls were packed and the door opened. In came Al Senter, the host for the platform appearence, closely followed by Ian Richardson. Laughter started the evening when Ian mocked Al Senter for crossing the imaginary set walls and not using the proper entrance to the house through the door, like Ian did. After a short introduction Ian was asked to talk a bit about the existing or alleged rivalry between the RSC and the National Theatre and the reasons why it took so long to get him on stage at the NT. Ian said that he sees the main reason in his sort of "growing up" with the RSC and then leaving for Broadway for My fair Lady. But as an actor with the RSC he never had the impression that there existed much of a rivalry between the two theatres.
Then he was asked to talk a bit about his beginnings as an actor, which he used to feature a great deal of the Edinburgh accent impersonating his father's voice, and that he was told that he was too small, which could be fixed with cork inlays, not good looking enough for a leading man, but that he had a great voice which he then trained during military service in Lybia listening to his own tapes of radio broadcastings trying to get rid of his accent. A very funny episode about his father followed, who after his son finished service and returned to Edinburgh should come with him to the club but please god, should keep his mouth shut. Al Senter asked if he did and Ian replied he was asked (imagine thick scots accent here): "How does it feel to be back again?" to which Ian replied: "Oh, jolly good."
After an impressive demonstration of the iambic pentameter he talked a bit about his love for Shakespeare in general and how he grew into the parts at the RSC. He talked about the reasons why he took the part of Epicure Mammon and hinted that this apperance may be his swan song because he does not feel physically fit enough to take other parts on stage in the future. He may be retiring to TV and film work.
Then Al Senter of course had to bring up Francis Urquhart and Ian Richardson had some amusing anecdotes to tell how many butchered versions of the famous quote he was confronted with in the past.
After that, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions and a lot of people did. In short, Ian thinks that television is in a terrible state, that the decline of local theatres is bad and that actors in general in his time were given better opportunities to work and time to develop. He also said that he regrets never having played King Lear, and you could hear a small hint of sadness and disappointment that the RSC did not ask him to join them in the festival season (Lear will be played by another Ian (McKellen)) but he admitted that he would probably not be able to do it now anyway due to the demanding nature of the part. He will be in a movie with Derek Jacobi though beginning filming in Venice in January. Due to his superstitousness he didn´t want to talk too much about it but hinted it is about a long-lost script of a master poet. Now who could that be?
Finally Ian was asked if he ever considered writing an autobiography and he said that he indeed was approached by publishers in the past but does not want to do it yet. Who would buy them anyway he asks, and Senter replied "well there are some hundreds here tonight"
Then Al Senter thanked Ian for appearing and they left the stage under applause, Ian opening the door for Senter, preparing him for a proper exit.
That ended the entertaining and very humorous platform appearance and we were looking forward to the play.
I am not a good reviewer, I leave this to the professionals and in the case of this play and staging it is the more difficult for me because it was not in my native tongue, and what added greatly to the level of difficulty, the English used is old and a large variety of accents was used as well. In short, the play was funny throughout and at times hilarious. The acting was breathtaking to say the least and it was a tour de force of the two main actors who were absolutely brilliant. I was told they are the titans of contemporary English theatre and I believe every word of it. Ian said Sir Epicure was probably the saddest man he ever played, yet there is a great deal of humour in the way he plays him and the two gigantic monologues were delivered wonderfully. The whole cast was energetic, and there wasn´t a dull moment. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it.
The only thing I was wondering about is the lack of enthusiasm on the audience's part. I was told that it may be a London thing or that the regular NT audience is a bit more reluctant than others, from my experience in German theatres and opera houses (even with casts that could not ever be compared to the brilliance assembled in this one) the applause would be way longer and more enthusiastic. Usually like in the NT that night, there would be the secondary players in groups, then the pricipal players alone and then all together as a group. In the NT that's when it ended, but I would have expected at least one more round of the big names.
After the show we went to the stage door in hope of meeting Ian, and after some minutes the woman from the desk remembered us and told us that Ian is in the Foyer. So we went there, looked around and indeed there he was sitting. I recognized his wife and there were two other women talking to him. We decided to wait for the right moment to introduce ourselves as we did not want to disturbe a gathering of old friends there, and after some minutes Ian was going somewhere and when he returned I approached him and introduced myself. I mentioned the note (which he didn´t get) and we had a short chat, he asked from where in Germany we come from and mentioned another fan from the Munich area who brings him Bavarian beer.
I told him how much we enjoyed the evening and thanked him, then we parted and my girlfriend and I wandered back along the river, over the bridge.
The circle was completed.

Report by Patrick Prieto-Fink