WhatsOnStage Logo

Michael Coveney: Boys night out at the Young Vic, with Shakespeare wallahs

WhatsOnStage logo
The Scottsboro Boys
© Richard Hubert Smith

The opening of The Scottsboro Boys last night at the Young Vic was every bit as lively and exhausting as the show itself, guests and colleagues thronging the foyer, the bars and the pavements outside on a mild autumn evening - such a contrast to the violent storms of Sunday night - and still the performance started more or less on time, a miracle of ushering.

In the bar I found the unlikely figure of Garth Crooks, the former Spurs footballer who is now a BBC pundit. Naturally, as any self-respecting Spurs supporter would do, I took the opportunity to say hello, and he couldn't have been more charming.

Well, actually, he could have been more charming, but he was looking out for his beautiful wife, who soon arrived, and they in turn were looking out for their States-side friends involved in the show. They found them, and sped across the foyer, but not before I asked Garth how the Spurs killer goal scorer Jermaine Defoe felt about not being first choice striker in the team this season: "He's furious!" said my new friend before accusing me of looking on the down side all the time, like all Spurs fans.

Luckily I'd cheered myself up even before the show started by having tea and tapas with my friend Dominique Goy-Blanquet, president of the French Shakespeare Society, bringing me up to speed on her plans for celebrating Shakespeare's 450th birthday in Paris next April. Interestingly, the RSC are holding fire until 2016, the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death, so Paris will be stealing a march on Stratford-upon-Avon with a programme of lectures, seminars, workshops, performances and dinners; our own Peter Holland is already booked to talk about commemorating Shakespeare from Westminster Abbey to Stratford.

One of Holland's former colleagues at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford, Paul Edmondson, now head of education at the Birthplace Trust, completed the Venice marathon last Sunday (in four hours, 50 minutes... well done!) as part of the fund-raising drive towards a major Shakespeare poetry commission for 2016. His friends and colleagues, including the eminent scholar Professor Stanley Wells, cheered him home in St Mark's Square with a rousing shout-out of the St Crispin's Day speech from Henry V ("We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...") before dousing him in bucket loads of prosecco.

All manner of startling news items have assailed me lately, not least Rita Moreno, star of the West Side Story movie and former lover of Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, telling Libby Purves on her Midweek Radio 4 programme this morning that her affair with Kenneth Tynan, whom she adored, was going along just fine until he suggested a little not-so-light spanking. Oh dear.

Rita's over here for the BFI season celebrating the film and stage director Peter Glenville. Was he a director she particularly enjoyed working with, asked Libby? "No!" said Rita before explaining the difficulties she had shuttling between the film lots of West Side and Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams, which Glenville was directing.

It's always upsetting to hear of things not going well between actors and directors, and over lunch on Monday in the Ivy club, David Warner was telling me about things not going all that well between actors and actors when, as a complete neophyte, Peter Hall cast him as Henry VI, Richard II and then Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1963-5. All the senior actors, who included Peggy Ashcroft and Donald Sinden, welcomed him generously; there was a slight problem only among his spear-carrying contemporaries in the company who felt that he'd been picked for stardom ahead of them – which he had been! He'd only had a couple of small parts on any stage, let alone the RSC, up to that point, and suddenly he was the new lead.

However the experience of all that might have scarred him for life, or even defined the kind of actor he was, David, who is still a god to me, despite our friendship, is always curious to know about new actors and new productions. Like Dominique Goy-Blanquet, who is an expert on the play, he doesn't necessarily think that Richard II is the kind of weakling character he portrayed; and he was looking forward to seeing David Tennant - who is arrogant, assured and bizarrely energetic from start to finish - in the role in Stratford tonight.


Tagged in this Story