Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Wimbledon - It's a Scream

I'm not surprised that Belarus tennis player Viktoria Azarenka is doing so well at Wimbledon. If I were her opponents I'd find it extremely difficult to concentrate, given the racket she makes. In fact, like my daughter and I were at home yesterday, I'd find it difficult not to be in hysterics. There are a lot of noisy players, particularly in the Ladies section but I find the wuhooooooooooo sounds emanating from her 'north and south' quite hypnotic in that kind of voyeuristic way we feel compelled to watch or listen to something unnatural (and which shouldn't be allowed.)

Meanwhile, having got back to watching more tennis this past year than I've seen for decades thanks to Andy Murray, I was suffering the angst in last night's epic match from fretting about whether or not he'd get through after being pegged back to 3-3 from having a 3-0 lead in the final set. Wawrinka was playing excellent tennis and had the first set well and truly sewn up when I had to head out to cover an event.

When I got home I was fearful that Andy might have been knocked out and was pleasantly surprised to find that the match was still going on - albeit arriving just in time to see Wawrinka clinch the fourth set. But, I should have had more faith and the Murray Magic saw him through. Let's hope he is able to win his quarter final match and more comfortably - not least for the sake of my nerves.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Phedre - A Knockout Experiment!

Tonight I was part of an experiment - and I can't wait to be a 'guinea pig' again.

I went to the Glasgow Film Theatre where, along with people across the UK and as far away as Australia, I watched a live broadcast of Phedre from the National Theatre. Apparently it's the first time that such a venture has been attempted, and boy did it work for me!

They certainly chose a terrific opener for what is going to be an extended trial run, with performances of All's Well That Ends Well, Nation and Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art due to be beamed around the world between now and early next year.

The Phedre cast of Helen Mirren, Dominic Cooper, Margaret Tyzack, John Shrapnel, Wendy Morgan, Ruth Negga, Chipo Chung, Stanley Townsend and Elliot Horne were superb, the set design was outstanding and Ted Hughes version a linguistic joy.

And for £10 we got a tremendous view of the play via the five cameras used, plus an opening introduction from Jeremy Irons and Director Nicholas Hytner.

Thank you, NT - let's be having some more!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A Never Ending Process

I finally got the proof-checking finished yesterday and all the pages needing corrections sent back to Troubador .

It's quite incredible how a manuscript can be checked umpteen times by four different people - all with proofreading experience to varying degrees, and yet I was still spotting slight errors yesterday afternoon when I was on the point of popping the sheets back in the envelope.

I'm sure there's a good chance that there might be a couple of little things noticed when the corrected sheets come back, but at least I know that as much care as possible has been taken to eliminate them.

The photo proofs arrived last Friday and a good job has been done fitting them in to the two black & white and one colour sections. The most glaring mistake was in one of the photos, taken from The Master of Ballantrae. In the picture, Finola Hughes, Richard Thomas and the young actor who played their son, Alexander, in the drama are all smiling at the camera, but poor Ian has been totally decapitated (he's not even nearly-headless) - you can only see him from the lace ruff down.

I'm sure that the photo will look like this once the proof has been corrected
I look forward to receiving the corrected proofs - and having very little to do except check through them, sign them off, and be one step nearer to having the finished product in my hand.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A Very Suitable Resting Place

After 18 months at the Birmingham Repertory Company, Ian Richardson spent 15 glorious years from 1960 to 1975 (with the odd break for 'good behaviour') gracing the stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, for whom he was a true star and an inspiration to fellow actors.

It was in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1960, that he met his beloved wife Maroussia, a fellow member of the Company. In Stratford, fans used to wander past his house in the hope of glimpsing their idol.

His roles for the RSC included Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Antipholus of Epheseus in The Comedy of Errors, The Herald and Marat in Marat/Sade, Frank Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Chorus in Henry V, Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well, Vendice in The Revenger's Tragedy, Cassius in Julius Caesar, Pericles, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Prospero in The Tempest, Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost, Richard II and Bolingbroke (alternating with Richard Pasco), Iachimo in Cymbeline and both Buckingham and then the king in Richard III.

National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner begins his recollections of Ian in We Could Possibly Comment by saying, "My earliest memories as a serious theatre-goer are dominated by Ian Richardson’s incandescent performances for the RSC in the late 60’s and early 70’s."

John Sessions recalled, "He was my childhood hero and I’d grown up with all those wonderful performances at the RSC. "

Juliet Stevenson, remembers her first visit to see a professional performance of a Shakespearian play. It was in Stratford, with Ian playing Richard II. She said, "I walked into the theatre that evening one person and came out as another person. That was very largely due to Ian."

Many of his colleagues at the RSC have commented on the profound effect working with Ian had on them - how much they learnt from him, his absolute mastery of Shakespearian verse and technical brilliance and what a wonderful role model he was for fellow Company actors.

It is therefore so touching and appropriate, that Ian's final resting place is Stratford-upon-Avon.

Last November, Maroussia and younger son Miles, who has also acted with the RSC, placed Ian's ashes, with assistance from the construction workers, in the foundations of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, currently under reconstruction, Transformation Work, beneath what will be the front of the stalls.

I'm sure I won't be the only person keen to visit the new theatre when it opens next year, both to remember a dear friend, but also in the hope that there will be many glorious productions in the new theatre, worthy of the Company's great name and of a singular actor who gave so many wonderful performances at Stratford.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Choice of photo for the Cover

I've just received a Facebook message from fellow writer Gillian Philip (who won a staggering 4 first prizes for the different book categories plus a short story in her first appearance at the Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference the year before last) saying how much she likes the cover photo for the book, We Could Possibly Comment .

Photo copyright Sam Farr for the Bath Chronicle

I suppose the temptation might have been to have used one of Ian as Francis Urquhart

or even one of the many lovely ones his wife Maroussia took of him as Dr Joseph Bell

But for me, Sam Farr's photo captures the essence of Ian as I knew him - as a very warm, caring person and a real gentleman, with a great sense of fun.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Proof is in the Pudding

The proofs for the book We Could Possibly Comment - Ian Richardson Remembered were waiting for me on the doormat this morning when I got back from my swim.

I suppose the emotions I felt when I was opening the envelope were a mixture of relief that they were reaching me soon enough, hopefully, for me to get them back to Troubador in time for copies to be ready for the Writers' Summer School in early August, and trepidation as to how I would feel upon reading it again. I'm sure there will be the odd thing I look at and think I could have written/edited better - or perhaps not said at all, and other things I wish I'd put in, but that will always be the case with something you create.

The photo proofs - there will be two black & white and one colour section - and the cover proof should be with me shortly.

I know I'll have mixed feelings when the finished product arrives and I see 'the book' for the first time. Of course, there should be a sense of elation when your first book is published and you get to hold it in your hand for the first time. In this case it will be more a sense of relief that what I set out to do - to honour Ian's memory by getting a book on him out there - has at last been achieved. And there will be sadness too - the reason it has been completed is because Ian is no longer with us.

However, I hope it will awaken in those who read it, many memories of a wonderful actor and very special human being. And for those who read it but never got to meet him or see his performances on stage, film or television, a sense of the man - and perhaps the urge to obtain many of his visual or audio works that are still available.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Ian as Dr Joseph Bell

Every occasion in which I was in Ian Richardson's company was memorable, but there were some standouts.

One of them was when he came to Glasgow (where he had studied drama at what is now the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) for a couple of months to film his first appearance as Dr Joseph Bell in Murder Rooms - The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes in the autumn of 1999.

I made my own arrangements with the production company to watch some exterior filming one afternoon and Ian wasn't in the scene I observed being shot. After I'd finishing watching the actors, crew,extras and director Paul Seed (who also directed House of Cards and To Play the King and has provided some highly interesting input for We Could Possibly Comment) at work, I heard Ian's unmistakable tones.

Ian and Maroussia were just heading in for a night shoot and he had just finished doing an interview for the Radio Times. I trailed poor Maroussia round the Glasgow book shops for a book Ian was looking for and when we got back to where the car was waiting to take her back to Ian's trailer and I expected to say 'goodbye', the driver told me that Ian was expecting me to join him there.

Whilst enjoying a meal with Ian and Maroussia in the trailer, Ian decided that I should watch a scene being filmed that would be far more beneficial to me with my interest in scriptwriting, than the one I'd just seen. He left us and went to ask Paul Seed, assistant director Harry Boyd and co-star Robin Laing (who at that stage was playing Arthur Conan Doyle) for permission for me to come back and observe one of the main scenes being filmed.

A week or two later, I reported to the 3rd assistant director inside Glasgow's beautiful Pollok Park and he showed me to Ian's trailer. With Maroussia looking after me, we went down into the basement of Pollok House.

I was given a headset and a ringside seat in front of a monitor and watched first as the scene was being rehearsed and then filmed. It was a scene which mirrors the one in The Sign of Four in which Holmes examines Watson's pocket watch and makes deductions from it. Ian had himself starred in the film and so had a sense of deja vu, the difference being that he was making the deductions as Joseph Bell, from Doyle's watch.

It was so interesting observing Ian at work - he was totally focused and mindful of every minute detail - checking with the continuity girl to know exactly where he was coming in and moving Robin Laing so that the younger actor was in the best light.

He was also full of fun and had everyone laughing when he told the Director of Photography, John Kenway, 'I'm lining the watch up with your knob, John', to which he recieved the reply, 'I'm surprised you can see it from there, Ian.' Later on, the DP return the compliment by saying 'I'm lining the camera up with the first of your chins, Ian'.

The atmosphere on the set was extremely relaxing and I think a lot of that was due Ian's sense of fun and lack of self-importance or pomposity.

I spent nine hours watching that scene, which took several hours to rehearse and film from various angles, plus a further scene being rehearsed. I called it quits after eleven, whilst Ian and everyone else was there working into the 'wee small hours' of the next morning.

A couple of days later, Ian posted me out the Call Sheet from that day, which had my name on it as a visitor to the set. It was an act of thoughtfulness that was so typical of him.