The Customs House, South Shields
Being the presence of one of Britain’s foremost actors, whose work has touched many generations, promised to be two hours of funny stories and anecdotes, involving people most of us could only ever imagine meeting.
But it did not work out quite like that, as while there is no doubting Sir Donald looks nowhere near his 87 years and appears thankfully to be fit and healthy, he often confused dates and lost his train of thought while recalling stories. That is not to say this was not an entertaining evening by any means and it was a rare treat to hear someone of his standing talk about their lives, but so much appeared to be missing. While it is obviously impossible to cram his career in to two hours, we actually only covered up to the period he made The Cruel Sea.
There was sadly no mention of Marilyn Monroe or Dirk Bogarde, although we did hear a few stories about Sir Ralph Richardson and when he mentioned to the audience that some of us may have had the honour of knowing the great actor, I was very tempted to shout out as I briefly worked with the last Sir Ralph. But I resisted as we were at that point being told stories of actors we knew of and I did not want to break the spell.
The first half of the performance had covered not only his childhood but references to performers long forgotten and it took almost to the intermission before the names being mentioned (Sir Donald Wolfit) meant something to the audience at all.
Sir Donald’s style was totally relaxed, and even when he had to ask the audience for assistance in remembering names, or rely on his son Marc to give him prompts (he was sitting near the front of the theatre) we were willing him on all the way. His professionalism turned these moments, which could have been very awkward, in to comedy as he blustered his way through.
The evening ended with the tables being turned as Sir Donald asked the audience about the statue he had seen across the river in North Shields. One member of the audience deservedly received a round of applause for his explanation about Lord Collingwood to the great actor. Although he appeared to be bemused on hearing the “wooden lighthouse “ as he referred to it was called The Groyne.
While it was a delight to hear Sir Donald and I would recommend the evening to anyone, I was not alone in thinking the performance would have benefitted from being more structured. Maybe a few film clips to keep things moving along in chronological order would help, thereby identifying the host of famous faces he has known and worked with and we were wanting to hear about.