Forty six years of theatregoing inevitably leaves a trail of wasted evenings but also some outstanding memories. It’s nice to have the opportunity to focus on the positives during these difficult times.
For me, treasured memories include: Gielgud and Richardson in No Man’s Land (unsurpassable, but given a close run by the Almeida revival with Pinter and Paul Eddington nearly 20 years later); the original production of Piaf with Jane Lapotaire and Zoe Wanamaker; Pinter as actor again, in Krapp’s Last Tape at the Royal Court, all the more poignant so close to his death; an utterly magical Much Ado at Stratford with Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack in 1982; the Rustavali Theatre Company from Georgia in Richard III at the Roundhouse.
The RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby didn’t quite make it for me, important though it was, but this company has provided plenty of pleasures over the decades.
If I were forced to pick one theatre experience above all others, I’d go for Brecht’s Galileo at the National in 1980 with Michael Gambon in a career-boosting role. I can remember feeling very tired going into the theatre and not in the mood for a long evening of serious drama (despite being a huge admirer of Brecht, then and now) and coming out buzzing and feeling alive in a way that you only can after seeing a great evening of theatre.
It was directed by John Dexter and I think I’m right in saying it took Gambon’s career to a new level. He’d been around a long time before that, of course, but this stellar performance pointed to the greatness that was to come. Talking of star turns, among the most charismatic appearances I’ve seen were John Hurt, riveting in Krapp’s Last Tape and Richard Harris, astonishing in Pirandello’s Henry IV.
If I had to pick something from the 21st century, I think I’d return to the RSC and choose Michael Boyd’s Henry VI trilogy, which thrilled me as much as anything I’ve seen. Not all the productions in the tetralogy were as good but Henry VI was the company at its best. I saw the three plays in a single day three times. A long day but worth the efforts of concentration and physical endurance.