Always True to You, Darling, in My FashionDate: 11 February 2002
As in so many professions, the office is also a place where romance blossoms for many stage actors. Mark Shenton talks to six luvvies about how they met their lifelong Valentines in the theatre - and where they went from there.
Actress Kate Winslet made front page news recently when she was seen escorting her new beau, theatre and film director Sam Mendes, to the New York premiere of her latest film, Iris. The pair had met when she was invited to talk about appearing in the next season at the Donmar Warehouse, the London theatre that, at least until later this year, he runs.
Kate and Sam are hardly the first to tread these boards. In common with other walks of life, theatre folk often meet each other through work. And, given that such work is invariably in the public eye, it's little wonder that such couplings are so often so high profile, churning up both great flurries of media interest and plenty of fuel for the public imagination.
Laurence Olivier's marriages to Vivien Leigh and later Joan Plowright are the story of his work as well as his life. Peter Hall's wives have included actress Leslie Caron, singer Maria Ewing and theatre publicist Nicki Frei. And Trevor Nunn has married three actresses: Janet Suzman; Sharon Lee-Hill (an original cast member of Cats, which he directed); and currently Imogen Stubbs.
Whatsonstage.com spoke to six happy couples whose romance was forged in the theatre to find out how they met - and how it helps, and sometimes hurts, to have a partner who's also in the business.
Meeting for the First Time
"I was just out of the army, and I'd auditioned for HM Tennent," Quilley recalls. "They were doing a new play by Christopher Fry, The Lady's Not For Burning, which John Gielgud was starring in and directing; and there was a new lad playing the juvenile lead, Richard Burton, who I was asked to understudy for £8 a week. On the first day of rehearsal, I turned up in the wings at what was then called the Globe in my demob suit, and saw all these flash people! I hovered there, not knowing what to do with myself, when this lovely girl came over and asked me for my telephone number. Her name was Stella Chapman, and she was understudying Claire Bloom and Pamela Brown, but she was also the assistant stage manager and so needed my phone number for the company records! Six months later we got married, during the run of the play!"
During the last few weeks of the run, Denis and Stella even got to appear opposite each other: "Claire left to do an Anouilh play, and Richard went off to be a film star, so we both took over."
Denis and Stella Quilley now occasionally work together on verse readings she devises and directs. "She also directed my one-man show, The Best Of Times," says Denis. "I have no hang-ups being directed by her. She knows me so well that she's probably my best critic. I always get her to come to the first preview, so I can get her reactions straight away, and then have a week or so to incorporate her suggestions."
Leigh Lawson, now touring in Art after completing a West End run in the play, first met his wife, former iconic fashion model and now actress Twiggy, 17 years ago. Though they appeared in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous on television together, it wasn't until last year that he turned director to direct his wife in an off-Broadway show, If Love Were All.
"Somehow the personal thing between us went away in the rehearsal room, and it didn't get in the way or become a hindrance through over-familiarity," Lawson says. "Otherwise it would have been uncomfortable for other people around us."
Promoting Each Other's Work
Writer Charlotte Jones was delighted when her actor husband Paul Bazeley got a job at the National Theatre. "I had Simon Russell Beale in mind when I wrote Humble Boy, though I didn't know him. Then, out of the blue, Paul was offered the part of Guildenstern in the National Theatre production of Hamlet that Simon was doing. I said he just had to take the job, even though Guildenstern was a small part. As he got to know Simon, he would come home and say he's really nice. About a month into rehearsal, he approached him with my script, telling him that Mrs Guildenstern had written something she would love him to read." Once he did, he liked it very much, "and that set the ball rolling".
Beale took the play to his Hamlet director, John Caird, and the rest is now history - last week Humble Boy won both the Critics' Circle and Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Awards for Best New Play. But Paul is still waiting for his wife to write him a part now. Charlotte laughs: "There's a jokey pressure that's not that jokey sometimes for me to do so. One day I will have to do that!"
Leigh Zimmerman, who's playing Velma Kelly in the West End production of Chicago, is a veteran of four Broadway shows over the past decade. But that's only part of the reason she's over here. She and her Scottish-born husband of eight years, Domenick Allen, originally moved to London two years ago to develop a new musical he's developed. Called A Sense of Freedom, it's based on the life of Jimmy Boyle. Domenick has written the music and lyrics, and will also appear in the show, with Leigh, when it comes to fruition. "It's a dream come true for us, for me to be working here in Chicagoand for him to be opening his musical here."
Being Together & Being Apart
Last year, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley found themselves in the happy situation of both appearing on Broadway simultaneously - she in Kiss Me Kate; he in The Full Monty. Now they're about to reprise that situation on this side of the Atlantic, when the latter show follows the former to transfer to the West End with both of them reprising their roles.
The couple met in 1996 when both were appearing in an outdoor summer season in New York of an avant-garde theatre company. Since then, though they have done concerts and readings together, they haven't yet managed to appear in the same show again. The best they can hope for is to be in the same city at the same time, as here, and Mazzie notes how "amazingly well" the scheduling has worked out for them. "When The Full Monty was trying out in San Diego for three months, and I was in Kiss Me Kate, we didn't see each other for 11 weeks. That was the longest separation we've ever had. But otherwise we fly out for weekends to be wherever the other is."
Dealing with such times apart is never easy. As Leigh Lawson comments: "There is a great problem with separation in our business. Last year I was doing a play in Washington and also rehearsing another for New York, and those two months were the longest Twigs and I have ever been apart. I could have done with a bit of company, if only someone to go over lines with me!" But Lawson clearly loves his wife as much as they both love the business they're in. "I'm always amazed how it works any other way, when you meet people who have married outside the business. But we understand each other's pressures and difficulties, the frustrations and joys."
The Next Generation
Tim Flavin, starring in the Chichester Festival revival of My One and Only that arrives at the West End's Piccadilly Theatre this month, also has another production on the way - his first child, with actress wife Stephanie Prince, is due on opening night.
So will the child be born in a trunk? "Being born of two stage parents," says Flavin, "the child will inevitably grow up in a theatrical household; but it's completely up to our son or daughter whether they choose to tread the boards, when they reach an age to make those decisions. Neither of us is going to push in that respect. Showbusiness is not necessarily the wisest career choice one can make. The odds are not really in your favour. I would rather my child be an extremely happy, productive gardener than a poor and frustrated wannabee."