Boom time

The burdens of being a national treasure, treacherous boy wizards and neglected English roses


This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

While celebrating fellow baby boomer His Majesty’s coronation, myself and fellow old co-stars also felt it fitting to toast our generation’s undoubted good fortune down the decades.

Though these days contending with time’s rigours, we septuagenarians raised a grateful glass to long-ago days of sexual promiscuity, unsullied RP accents, dressing for dinner and decent London house prices.

Having admired the versatile talents of Michael Sheen for many a year (his Blair, Frost, Kenny Williams to name but a few), isn’t another, more captivating role overdue?

Whenever seeing dear Michael on screen these days, he appears to be channelling precisely the same Welsh windbag I watched only weeks before. 

Cast as the once-manly Bottom at Shakespeare’s Globe, charming actress Mariah Gale enthuses: “What I find beautiful about this company is that it really doesn’t use the usual casting, the expected casting, the conventional casting … we have lots of she/her- identifying performers playing parts that are traditionally played by people who identify as he/him.”

Nothing remotely usual/expected/conventional about that in good ol’ 2023! 

WITH PLANS CONFIRMED for a “TV reboot” of Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter adventures, I remain proud to have long been among her most fervent defenders in this very column — not least against the treacherous ex-boy wizard. Hardly right or proper, of course, for this versatile character actor to now expect a half-decent telly part as fitting reward!

Ex files

Frosty beauty Gillian Anderson swiftly shot down shabby newspaper tales that claim her “refusal” to return as Maggie Thatcher in the next series of The Crown caused chaotic script rewrites. Having previously delivered an officially award-winning performance as the Iron Lady — not to mention stoically coping with the frisky adventures of “on-off” beau and Crown creator Mr Morgan — this fine woman’s commitment to the cause surely cannot be doubted.

Fears grow for Dame Judi Dench, these days seen on stage alongside The Brandreth with alarming regularity. Not content with forcing her to appear at his self-promotional events in the West End, I hear the shameless vampire’s now dragging the old girl up to Edinburgh this summer. 

Poor Judi, I’m told, will once more be coerced into telling “precisely the same anecdotes for the umpteenth time”, while The Brandreth chillingly affects “spontaneous” laughter (all the way to the bank) in response.

At the time of writing, one can only pray there’s a merciful intervention at hand …

Handsome devil Rufus Sewell is the latest star left “unrecognisable” after having his face plastered in prosthetics for the role of Prince Andrew. While the viewing masses are still evidently expected to be wowed by such gimmicks, one worries Mr Sewell risks looking as daft as Ken Branagh during that similarly silly “transformation” into Boris Johnson last year.

A briefly despondent Jenny Seagrove declares: “Through my career I’ve played all sorts of different roles, but I kept being put back in the box of ‘pretty English rose’. It’s deeply boring.” We must be grateful wealthy squeeze/patron Mr Kenwright is on hand to ensure Jenny’s strangely unappreciated acting talents are regularly showcased over at Theatre Royal Windsor … where other so-called English roses needn’t apply!

Nats so great

What with those Scots Nationalists being in a spot of bother of late, let’s hope this doesn’t compromise the endeavours of high-profile celebrity supporters Messrs Cox and Cumming.

While rarely up to speed with Scottish affairs myself, I often greatly enjoyed watching Brian and Alan cheering Ms Sturgeon to the rafters in her pomp. Surely Scottish nationalism would be all the poorer without these two American-based actors flying over to tell us what’s what.

Waddling into hostilities over at the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, Miriam Margolyes accuses new bosses of “damaging the reputation of the charity” adding of ousted trustees: “People like Penny Keith and Siân Phillips are good people and I think it’s shocking that they were treated with such contempt.”

While Miriam apparently considers herself the ABF’s saviour, one struggles to see how this notorious troublemaker helps matters …

Northern exposure recent uncouth goings-on in Manchester, when rowdy audience members caused a production of the The Bodyguard to be cut short, highlighted the hazards of playing to Mancunian folk.

No stranger to problems in that part of the world (my normally acclaimed onstage stage “turn” once met with unprecedented levels of hostility at Manchester’s Press Club), this seasoned trouper generally finds it wiser to ply his trade no further than the northern borders of Warwickshire.

Ever since discovering by chance that I hadn’t been invited to the upcoming 40th anniversary cast reunion for civil war telly drama By The Sword Divided, one has been racking the brains, struggling to comprehend the reason for such a snub? With the traditionally amiable Earl of Portland (radio’s David Archer) taking on the role of organiser, this dutiful Cavalier can only hope his bizarre omission is rectified before the day of battle. 

Bard for life

400th anniversary celebrations for the Bard’s First Folio prove a fitting time to assess the lie of the land.

While all too easy for us RSC veterans to observe matters through the half-empty glass, we must briefly consider the view of our youthful successors. With persistent interventions/reworkings by the modern-day theatrical establishment now hopefully sparing this “problematic” playwright from further disgrace, who’s to say his very greatest years aren’t ahead of him! 

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