David Bradley may be well known these days for playing Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films, but his reputation as a stage actor of consummate, understated skill and flawless technique is long established. Bradley goes straight to the heart of the matter without padding or tricky diversions.
So it is in this touring monologue by Richard Crane which Bradley will perform for two weeks next month in the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios. There, the intimacy of the surroundings will suit the piece better than did the vast, under-populated expanse of the Rose at Kingston.
Still, even here, Bradley transfixed the house with his farewell performance as an actor playing the role of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Dressed in a floor-length monk’s habit, he carefully lights the candles in the cell where he will take his leave of the role, the theatre, the audience and his own career.
In a programme note, Crane discusses the extended moment of crisis in Dostoevsky, the comedy of waiting for death in both the novelist’s fictions and his own life. So the actor’s performance becomes a perilous undertaking in itself, a jazz improvisation in which – are we ready for this, Bradley asks – Dostoevsky meets Dizzy Gillespie.
Dying on stage has a double meaning and sometimes dying off, too. One critic dropped dead in the street after attending a performance of Whose Life Is It Anyway? And when Tommy Cooper collapsed on stage in the ironically titled show Live From Her Majesty’s on television in 1984, the audience killed themselves laughing while the dead comic’s huge feet protruded from beneath the plush red curtains.
“Put out the light, and then put out the light,” says Othello as a prelude to murdering Desdemona. Bradley’s candle-lit inquisitor is spending his last night on earth with the audience, rather than with the man he has condemned to death. His attention shifts from the plot to the whole of humanity.
The mordancy and terror of this situation is beautifully conveyed in a performance of deft philosophical contemplation by an actor at the peak of his powers and in full control of his considerable art. But you’d not know that to watch him, necessarily. “How does he do that?” you say to yourself as you leave the theatre. It’s a master class in deception.