Ken’s troubles

The modern theatrical world isn’t kind to its older actors


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

Boy who would be king

I see Ken Branagh’s been tugging at the heartstrings in his film Belfast,
a “semi-autobiographical” account of difficult childhood events. A revealing insight, no doubt, into the environment that helped turn a once innocent boy into the polite but ruthless networker many of us remember Kenny becoming by young adulthood — when nothing or no one got in the way of that often unseemly quest to seize Larry Olivier’s crown.

On reading Shakespeare’s Globe had taken to holding “open castings” for professional actors currently left “under-represented” in this crisis-hit trade, I instructed the unwilling agent to make appropriate email contact. 

She was duly ordered to inform them that this client was in the under-represented category of “talented/versatile Shakespearean (over 65) with a once flourishing career now sabotaged by traitors”. Having yet to receive a response at the time of publication, I wonder whether the Globe’s truly serious in this endeavour? 

Farewell to amiable comedy veteran Barry Cryer, whose death at the age of 86 was fittingly confirmed in a family statement. Naturally, cheery showbiz vampire Brandreth had already blabbed the news to all and sundry, speedily accompanying his own public announcement with a photo of Barry … and himself! 

Having embarked on a one-woman production of Hamlet, surely Miss Izzard’s ego continues to run wild at others’ expense? With the former Mr Eddie now grandly considering herself qualified to play all the male and female parts in the Bard’s great work, one doubts this self-absorbed celebrity ever gave a moment’s thought to us accomplished, but resting Shakespearean players, whose casting opportunities are hindered by such shameless vanity projects. 

While the Scouse bird from the Government eagerly sticks her stilettos into what was once the BBC, its remaining defenders insist we champion all it’s done for us down the years. 

I’ll only briefly say in the old Television Centre’s defence that there was nowhere else this young wide-eyed actor finding his way in the world could have hoped to regularly watch Pan’s People rehearsing of a lunchtime; learn the crucial art of body swerving a gin-soaked Wilfrid Bramble or bewigged Frankie Howerd in the BBC Club; or enjoy decent odds of a discreet encounter with a co-star in Doctor Who’s police box before the day was done.

Long ago times, alas, when the licence fee still seemed worth paying for …

With the relentlessly craved knighthood finally collected, I trust Sir David Suchet can contentedly reflect on pleasing — though some may suggest, somewhat fortunate — professional success down the decades.

As a man of faith, let’s hope our one-time Poirot continues to find
the strength to control those less than Christian urges he experiences
whenever anyone brings up the difficult subject of Ken Branagh’s portrayal of the Belgian detective.

David claims to avoid watching Ken’s effort for fear of saying something “derogatory”. How very admirable! 

Cat burglar

Regular readers may recall me noting the misfiring agent’s grim insistence on having cat Orson — mercifully dead at 17 — still on display in her home office courtesy of morbid taxidermy.

With relations between the wretched creature and myself hostile during its breathing years, I’d made no secret of my opposition to this “presence” whenever we met in her living room — not least as I deemed his sinister, motionless form a curse. (Don’t get me started on having a career managed by someone “working from home”). 

Who could have known such reasoned objections would result in yours truly finding himself cast in the role of prime suspect following Orson’s sudden disappearance a fortnight ago? 

Having been out enjoying the Tina Turner musical at the time of his removal, my so-called representative subjected this loyal client and normally trusted keyholder to deranged late night telephone accusations on her return.

Hopefully now drawing a line under the matter, I’m happy to confirm an awkward apology was forthcoming when it emerged her burly ex-life partner Sonia  had secretly driven over from Peterborough after an 18-month absence, seizing dead Orson and, it later tragically turned out, their signed framed photo with Timothy Dalton.

News that the Royal Shakespeare Company had signed a three-year deal to stage shows on cruises prompted a wave of nostalgia regarding my own long-ago theatrical adventures on the high seas.

Such thoughts even briefly stirred romantic notions of submitting one’s extensive résumé in time for the voyages ahead. Harrowing memories, alas, were soon enough to intervene, taking me back to the moment I was informed an inebriated co-star had “fallen” overboard near Norway.

Having been a controversial figure — courtesy of his sozzled nightly performances and allegedly seducing a Yorkshireman’s wife — one could never rule out whether there was more to that troublesome peacock’s mysterious demise than met the eye.

At odds with the impudent nephew over news the BBC is erasing yet more dialogue from vintage sitcoms deemed inappropriate by today’s killjoys, I made an impromptu cocktail hour decision to force him and his pals to watch my performance in forgotten 1989 family favourite Something’s Up!, in the hope they might finally “get” comedy.

Dusting down the VHS of the pilot episode — a combination of ill fortune and betrayal scuppered hopes of a full series — I found myself transported to happier, more innocent days, laughing uproariously at the slapstick antics of my “nosy neighbour” character Howard and his ongoing efforts to bed saucy sister-in-law Elaine.

Briefly turning away from the screen for a refill during what I now conceded was one of the less well-written plot twists, I was taken aback to suddenly hear approving chortles from my young guests. For a heartwarming moment, it seemed they and I might finally share common ground after all — before I realised the mirth had in fact been caused by the tape now being violently chewed up by a 30-year-old video recorder. Despite frantic efforts (on my part at least) to rescue the situation, the carnage spewing out from this treacherous contraption confirmed soon enough that Howard and his friends were cruelly lost to posterity.

Now that his trademark “handsy” antics with the fairer sex are curtailed in these puritanical times, frisky Jeremy Irons reports he “stays out of trouble” by confining himself to cuddling the family dog. A touching footnote to what’s officially been a challenging 44-year marriage to Emerald Isle beauty Ms Cusack.

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