Love’s labourers lost

Romeo finds himself overcome by a sense of utter hopelessness


This article is taken from the June 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Official Stratford commemorations marking the Bard’s 458th birthday predictably proved a celebrity-obsessed affair — the sight of unseemly Australian networker Ms Lette trotting by being proof enough of regrettable additions to the guest list.

I’d wager a greater time was had by those of us convening the same day at the nearby Dirty Duck, where many a more humble Royal Shakespeare Company player of yesteryear gathered for heartfelt toasts in his honour. 

A happy event only later tarnished by the fact our so-called “organiser” unforgivably misjudged the last train back to London, leaving half a dozen actors over 70 stranded for the night at Banbury Station.

Putting those questionable “celebs” to one side, congratulations should of course go to my old co-star Ken Branagh, who, along with Dame Judi, fittingly received the Freedom of Stratford.

Rarely shy to draw the grandest of parallels, Ken has long enjoyed romantically claiming that after receiving his calling as the Bard’s new chosen one aged 16, he threw caution to the wind and promptly “hitchhiked” north to his spiritual Warwickshire home — auspiciously on the “very same route” Shakespeare himself would have taken when travelling back from the capital all those centuries before.

After young Kenny landed his Henry V at Stratford in 1984, the pained expressions of certain fellow cast members, politely obliged to listen to this possibly apocryphal tale from their fresh-faced monarch, were a sight to behold.

How dispiriting to find the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, no less, recently the subject of embarrassing headlines courtesy of a financial bust-up. Naturally one’s own allegiance must remain with long-time charity president Dame Penelope Keith, whose ongoing efforts to add trademark decorum in the face of chaotic proceedings must be applauded. With Penelope’s adversary in this sorry affair, the over-promoted Mr Ellicott, having since left the post of general secretary, we can only hope they’re back on an even keel soon enough. Having observed many an ailing player being propped up by the Benevolent Fund down the decades, it’d be the cruellest of ironies to find the organisation going to the dogs just as the autumn of one’s own career reaches crisis point!

I must say that I find myself in rare agreement with bellowing exhibitionist Brian Blessed, after he remarked that the modern-day RSC should no longer be considered the credible custodian of the Bard’s work. 

Those of us deemed persona non grata by the RSC instead make do elsewhere: I gather poor Brian’s madcap theatrical endeavours are these days exiled to a desolate part of Berkshire.

◆ Dear old Brigit Forsyth’s recent confession that she was driven to furiously “throttling” Likely Lads co-star Rodney Bewes all those years ago, proves a regrettable footnote in the show’s history. Poor Rod, pushing up the daisies since 2017, certainly had “form” when it came to rubbing up co-stars the wrong way: I recall everyone from Jimmy Bolam to Basil Brush refusing to work with him again.

◆ While enjoying McKellen’s speech at the unveiling of the Westminster Abbey stone in honour of Sir John Gielgud, one couldn’t help imagining what the twentieth century’s greatest Hamlet would make of Ian’s unnecessary insistence on still playing the Danish Prince at 83!

◆ Veteran lesbian and one-time Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes announces to the press that she’s ready to act as mediator between fellow movie cast members and JK Rowling, following that falling-out over trans matters. Can anyone seriously believe this infamous troublemaker’s capable of anything other than adding further fuel to the flames?

Having struggled to endure the juvenile nephew’s unhealthy obsession with Peaky Blinders — not content with copying the daft haircut and headgear, he’s even been heard affecting a Birmingham accent (he’s from Hampshire) — I made no attempt to disguise my delight when this preposterous series finally ended.

Citizen Bob

Cocksure star of stage and screen Robert Lindsay suggests unsettling memories of Larry Olivier’s chameleon personality, while appearing alongside the latter’s Lear at Granada Television, prompted him to reconnect with his true working-class self and speak out on political issues.

Thank goodness the days of the enigmatic genius are a thing of the past … and we instead have such “authentic” actors as Mr Lindsay to tell us where the country’s going wrong! 

Can all those silly folk still insisting on obsessing over Helen Mirren’s septuagenarian good looks put a sock in it? Having studiously judged which way the wind blows on the issue, our beloved Dame’s making it abundantly clear she now officially disapproves of such nonsense. 

Should anyone wish to read more about Helen’s views on the matter, she happily elaborates while once more seen dolled up to the nines for a magazine fashion shoot. 

New Queen for Old Vic

With the charming-looking Ms Stevenson confirmed as new executive director of London’s Old Vic from July, we can for now only wish her well.

Naturally, it’s far too much to hope she’ll prove capable or willing when it comes to the all-important task of rooting out grim figures holding sway in the shadows on artistic matters. 

Having already sent harmless elderly rascal Gilliam and his production of Into the Woods packing (as far as Bath), it can only be a matter of time before we hear from these killjoys again.

◆ News that voluptuous English rose Kate Winslet is to appear with her adult daughter in an upcoming TV drama proves another reminder of the merciless passage of time. Kate proudly maintains the young lady in question had made it thus far without anyone in the industry knowing they’re related. Such miracles prove strangely common in this profession of ours … 

During the send-off for delightful late gent Peter Bowles, I found myself overcome by a sense of utter hopelessness.

It suddenly struck me that it was highly unlikely I’d ever be able to attend such an occasion for an esteemed actor without having to hear the intolerably cheery Gyles Brandreth wittering away nearby.

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