I first went up to Edinburgh in 1978 with the Oxford Revue. In the cast of that show was my friend David Jackson Young, who eventually became a producer for BBC Radio Scotland. He is still living in Edinburgh and I can't wait to spend time with him.
David once made me laugh for most of a show. We were waiting in the wings of St Mary's Hall in Edinburgh waiting to go on for the morning performance of The Sylvia Plath Story, a rather over-serious piece which we narrated whilst three actresses played Sylvia, delivering her verse as they danced around the stage. Yes, I know! As our cue to enter came David whispered in my ear, "You know Sylvia Plath left a suicide note, don't you? it said, 'Dear Ted, your dinner's on the table, your wife's in the oven, love Sylv.'" I walked on crying with laughter and sat on my little white box in the corner of the set, rocking back and forth for at least 10 minutes, until I was able to pull myself together and join in. David did my lines for me. One of the revues mentioned this but they thought it was quite moving to have one of the cast cry 'real tears' for much of the show.
|Me as Orlando. Sue Twist, Rosalind|
|David (right) as Touchstone|
We go back such a long way, even before that Edinburgh experience.
In the summer of 1976, after my first year in Oxford, I was in an open air production of 'As You Like It' in Merton College Gardens. Having never done Shakespeare in my life, I naturally ended up playing Orlando. Talk about 'out of my depth'. David played Touchstone. That's where we met. What heady times, swanning around St Cats rehearsing with our director Cordelia Monsey. She was the daughter of Derek Monsey, the writer, and Yvonne Mitchell, a very famous actress from the 1950's.
I didn't know who Yvonne was at all, I'd never heard of her. She had stopped acting in the 60's to bring up her daughter. They had lived in France and Yvonne's fame had dwindled.
One day Cordelia said that her mum was going to come along to rehearsal and that she'd work on some of the major speeches with us individually. I remember thinking, 'What a strange thing to do, get your mum to help you direct!?', but when this striking woman, with a beautiful voice, turned up and started talking to us about Shakespearean verse and how to speak it, I was mesmerised. We worked together on Orlando's famous speech about hanging verses, or poems, in the trees. It is full of passion and the energy and excitement of young love. I could just about get all that stuff, but I just didn't have the skill to deliver the lines as they should be delivered. I had no idea how to speak the verse. Yvonne took me through it, line by line, and, over the course of an hour or so, she began to turn me in to an actor. At least I felt as if she had, I was probably still dreadful? Yvonne was full of praise and encouragement, though.
Imagine that? Being nineteen and doing Shakespeare in a leafy, college garden in Oxford with Yvonne Mitchell? She had played Kate to Peter O'Toole's Petruchio at Stratford. She was voted television actress of the year 1953 for her performance as Julia, alongside Peter Cushing as Winston Smith, in Nineteen Eighty Four. She was on the board of the National Theatre. Cordelia's godfather was John Gielgud! Thank God I didn't know any of that until I spoke to my dad on the phone, a few days later? I would have been a gibbering gibberer. I went to a Secondary Modern School in Orpington. We went on our one holiday a year to Pontin's Holiday Camp in Hayling Island. How, in the course of one year, had I gone from that to this? I still don't know.
On our opening night Yvonne came to see the show and sat next to my dad. My dad had had a crush on her for years and he put on his Ronald Coleman voice, very clipped and nasal, for the whole evening. He was quite good at pretending to be posh. I'm sure Yvonne could tell, but she was charming to him all night.
She gave me an opening night present, which I still have in my wardrobe; a wooden coat hanger with a note pinned to it which reads, "For my sweet Orlando, a convenient place for you to hang your verses. With my love, Yvonne." ...... did you feel me pause and sigh just then?