Tuesday 30 November 2010
Monday 22 November 2010
WHEN the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opens its doors in Stratford-upon-Avon this week after its multi-million pound refurbishment, it will contain one very special but unseen addition.
Buried in the foundations, under the front row of the stalls, are the ashes of Ian Richardson who between 1960 and 1975 was one of the outstanding members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Ian died on February 9, 2007, but his ashes weren’t given their final resting place, by his widow Maroussia and younger son Miles, until November 2008.
Maroussia explained: “For 15 years, Ian played a succession of leading roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, from Ford to Coriolanus, Prospero to Pericles, with many others in between. His blood, sweat and tears were decidedly absorbed into the fabric of the old theatre.
“After he died, his ashes sat in an urn in my kitchen for nearly two years while I pondered over a suitable place to put them. One of my sons Miles, being in the RSC, I went to Stratford and we did the tourists tour of the foundations for the new theatre. Looking around at the still unconcreted ground, the idea came to me - this was the perfect place. Permissions were sought and given and we placed the ashes just under what will be the middle of row A in the stalls.”
Edinburgh-born Richardson graduated from Glasgow’s College of Dramatic Art (now the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) in 1958, winning the James Bridie Gold Medal. Having been spotted by Bernard Hepton, he went from there straight to the Birmingham Rep, where he took over from Albert Finney as the juvenile lead. While at the Rep and only 24, he played Hamlet to much acclaim.
18 months after arriving in Birmingham, directors John Barton and Peter Hall became aware of the talented young actor and Ian was invited to join Hall’s fledgling permanent Company at Stratford.
The Company boasted Peggy Ashcroft, Paul Schofield, John Gielgud, Eric Porter, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Diana Rigg, Michael Williams, Patrick Wymark, David Warner and Ian Holm amongst its performers in those early years.
Ian rose steadily through the cast, becoming a real star of the Company and was often described as the Gielgud of his generation. He was an absolute master of the verse, of whom Plays and Players critic Gary O’Connor commented, ‘Some are born with silver spoons in their mouths, Mr Richardson was born with the iambic pentameter. He warbles, he flutes, he moans, he juggles, he transposes, stands on his head, lies on his back: whatever he may be doing, the lines ring out with clarity and precision.’
The comment was prompted by his performance as Berowne in the 1973 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a role that was highly challenging, but turned out to be his favourite.
He was best known for his virtuosic instrument of a voice, but was the complete actor on stage - bold and inventive and with a superb sense of comic timing. He was also very skilled at talking to and involving the audiences and had an electrifying stage presence.
He starred in the iconic production of Richard II in which he and Richard Pasco interchanged the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. For a while, when he played Bolingbroke he used to hurl himself from steps onto Richard’s coffin below, making everyone gasp. His performance as Frank Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, a role he reprised several times, is said to have been the definitive one, never bettered in terms of comedic ability.
Ian also enjoyed the ‘honour’ of being the first actor to appear naked on stage on Broadway, in 1965 – though he wore a posing pouch and made sure he only presented a rear view to audiences. That was in the RSC’s award-winning production of Marat/Sade, directed by Peter Brook. In the original production, Ian played the Herald, but when the play went to the States Ian, who was also assistant director, was asked to take over from Clive Revill as Marat.
Ian, being such a physical actor, hated having to spend night after night confined to a bath tub. He was also very conscious of the fact that every time he stepped out of the bath there were was a clicking noise. Eventually he discovered that it was the sound of opera glasses clunking against spectacles as members of the audience strained to see his bare bottom.
He was a generous mentor to the younger actors, highly respected and much loved by cast and crew alike. Few people will forget Helen Mirren’s BAFTA acceptance speech as Best Actress in a Film on Sunday, February 11, just two days after his death. Fighting back the tears, she told of how generous and supportive he had been when she was at the RSC and how she wasn’t sure she would have become the actress she was without his help.
Ian was highly popular with audiences too, and fans often used to walk past his house, some even hiding in the bushes near his home.
For all that he appeared calm and fully in command on stage, Ian struggled with his nerves for most of his years at Stratford. At his Memorial Service in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden in May, 2007, Sir Peter Hall recalled that he used to suffer greatly for his art, very often being physically sick before going on stage.
It was at Stratford, during a rehearsal for The Merchant of Venice, that Ian met fellow Company member Maroussia Frank, who was to be his wife, twin soul and constant companion for 46 years. He was very particular about his appearance and she was going through a scruffy, beatnik phase and it certainly wasn’t a case of love at first sight. But, they soon fell in love and were married on February 2, 1961.
Their first child Jeremy was born in December that year and Miles in 1963. Both boys appeared as fairies in Peter Hall’s 1968 film A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Judi Dench played Titania to Ian’s Oberon. Jeremy played Mamillius in Trevor Nunn’s 1969 production of A Winter’s Tale at Stratford. Miles, who was in a number of TV dramas in which his father starred, has been a member of the RSC including being involved in the recent run of the History Plays.
After his RSC days Ian concentrated mainly on television and film and had an equally successful career in dramas such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Private Schulz, Porterhouse Blue, Gormenghast, Murder Rooms and Bleak House. He was best known for his portrayal of the duplicitous politician Francis Urquhart in the House of Cards series. It was a role that won him several awards including a BAFTA, and an army of admirers.
The last role he played at Stratford, was Richard III and it was Richard whom scriptwriter Andrew Davies used as the model for Urquhart. The famous asides to camera, delivered by Ian with consummate ease and huge effect, were very much part of that, as were the Shakespearian quotes ‘FU’ used throughout the series.
Ian went back to Stratford in July, 2002 for a week’s run of John Barton’s recital programme The Hollow Crown, with Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Donald Sinden and Janet Suzman. Suzman had replaced Dame Diana Rigg who had been on the Crown tour of Australia and NewZealand a couple of months earlier. Ian took part in a further Antipodean tour the following year and then a five-week run in Toronto, this time with Sinden, Vanessa Redgrave and Alan Howard.
Many people assumed that Ian was a theatrical knight, but although he became a Commander of the British Empire in 1989, the higher accolade was never conferred upon him.
He last performed in Stratford on June 29, 2003 in a poetry recital, the Echoing Green, with Judi Dench. Her late husband Michael Williams had once lodged with the Richardsons and Ian and Alec McCowen were ushers at their wedding.
Ian’s sudden death came as a real shock. He died in his sleep, aged 72, following a heart attack. He hadn’t been ill and had spent the day having costume and wig fittings for a forthcoming episode of Midsomer Murders he was about to start filming.
As well as being an outstanding actor, Ian was a thoroughly dedicated professional, who couldn’t abide sloppiness, bad manners or lack of consideration to fellow performers or crew. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and would make his displeasure known when faced with lack of courtesy or effort in others.
Ian had a great love of Shakespeare and was disdainful of any perceived falling standards in verse-speaking or performance.
If the dizzy heights of the Company from these glorious years at Stratford aren’t reached when Royal Shakespeare Theatre productions get underway again next February, it’s possible that Richardsonian rumblings might be heard from below ground.
Monday 26 July 2010
The series has prompted discussions on who is considered to have been the best portrayer of Conan Doyle's Super Sleuth and the main candidates mentioned have been, unsurprisingly, Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone. I believe that several actors have been excellent in the role, including these two and Ian and Douglas Wilmer - they have all brought something different to the character.
Ian's portrayal of Holmes in The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles has been rightly praised. I suspect he might have been remembered for playing him as much as Brett and Rathbone, had the series of films planned not been halted after the first two had been made - due to Granada putting into action its own plans for a series once the books came into the public domain in 1980, fifty years after Conan Doyle's death.
The American producer, Sy Weintraub, had paid a great deal of money obtaining permission from the Doyle estate to make the films and he took Granada to court, winning an out-of-court settlement and ending his interest in making any more Holmes films. Not only was Ian robbed of the chance of playing the character again, but he also had to pull out from playing the Emperor in Amadeus as Weintraub wouldn't release him whilst the court case was pending.
He did, many years later, have the chance to play Dr Joseph Bell, the man believed to have been Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for Holmes, in the series Murder Rooms. And although it wasn't a case of bringing the stories up to date, as has just been done, the series was nonetheless an imaginative way of putting another slant on the Holmes/Watson scenario.
Friday 2 July 2010
Rosencrantz : Gary Oldman
Guildenstern : Tim Roth
Hamlet : Iain Glen
The Player: Richard Dreyfus
Ophelia : Joanna Roth
Claudius : Donald Sumpter
Gertrude : Joanna Miles
Polonius : Ian Richardson
It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's well worth seeing - and of course it's a joy to listen to Ian - and Richard Dreyfuss et al give fine performances.
Friday 25 June 2010
Pre-production is continuing on a new feature film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Many people thought that Simon Russell Beale was likely to get the role of George Smiley, having received plaudits for his recent radio portrayal of the character. Smiley is, however, going to be played by Gary Oldman. I wonder how close he will come to John Le Carre's Smiley - or indeed to the magnificence of the Alec Guinness portrayal.
Other actors currently listed, but not who they will be playing, are David Thewlis, Colin Firth and Michael Fassbender. Will Thewlis perhaps be Bill Haydon and Colin Firth Toby Esterhase? We'll have to wait and see - or perhaps not. I've yet to come across a remake that has come close to the quality of the original - The Lady Killers, Edge of Darkness, The Wicker Man are but a few examples. In fairness, I've not seen any of these 'remakes' nor do I have any desire to do so - a stance vindicated by any reviews or comments I've seen.
I'm still extremely content to revisit the originals from time to time. And for me, Alec Guinness will always be George Smiley, Ian - Bill Haydon, Ian Bannen - Jim Prideaux, Terence Rigby - Roy Bland and Bernard Hepton - Toby Esterhase.
Monday 12 April 2010
As part of his agreement to play the role, Ian insisted on being flown to India and sitting through many hours of newsreels and steeping himself in the Indian culture. He came to love the country and its people.
The Indian Government were adamant that there should be no overt manifestations of the rumoured affair between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten (played by Janet Suzman). However, the actors were able to engender a palpable electricity between the two characters.
For those of us who have watched the drama, the final scene, in which Nehru bids farewell to Edwina, shall remain unforgettable.
Mountbatten:The Last Viceroy was directed by Tom Clegg, and starred Nicol Williamson as Lord Louis Mountbatten and Sam Dastor as Gandhi.
There are contributions from Sam Dastor and Janet Suzman in We Could Possibly Comment: Ian Richardson Remembered , as well as some of Ian's own recollections of the making of the drama.
The DVD is still available from a few sources, such as Amazon UK, Acorn Media and Ciao.Co.UK and scenes from the Drama have just recently been put onto YouTube.
Friday 12 March 2010
On Monday, 15 March, I'm driving down to Ripon, where I will be giving a talk about Ian and We Could Possibly Comment - Ian Richardson Remembered at The Little Ripon Bookshop, at 7pm.
Wednesday 3 March 2010
Monday 8 February 2010
Many of his great performances can still be watched and he will remain in our hearts and memories.
Saturday 6 February 2010
One of the plays, Evelyn , stars Ian and Pauline Collins. By a strange coincidence, the play being broadcast the next day, Tuesday 9 February - the 3rd Anniversary of Ian's untimely passing - is called Passing Through.
Ian starred in the tv version of Passing Through in 1982, with Lee Montague and Rosalie Crutchley. The director was Desmond Davis, who also directed Ian as Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of Four , in 1983.
Thursday 4 February 2010
is coming out on DVD in April - only to learn that it is being released in Canada.
VideoCanada.CA - Acorn Media
You would think that a series made in the UK and starring John Gielgud, Ian Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Julian Glover, amongst others, would be brought out on DVD in the UK. But alas, like many other British-made programmes it is not the case.
I contacted Acorn Media to ask if they would be releasing it on DVD in the UK and was told that there are no plans to do so. I guess I'll have to start saving.
In the meantime, here are a couple of reminders of this wonderful feast of recitation.
Monday 18 January 2010
Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute with all of us.
Saturday 16 January 2010
It brings back so many memories to me of spending time on the set of the original Murder Rooms story, filmed in Glasgow. It was a different actor, Robin Laing, playing Conan Doyle and the director was Paul Seed (who directed Ian in House of Cards, To Play the King and Booze Cruise II & III). Paul Marcus, who directed two of the four Murder Rooms stories in the series, The Photographer's Chair and The White Knight's Stratagem and also directed Ian in Imperium: Nero is the director in the footage.
The atmosphere in Glasgow was just as lovely as it was in the series.
The singer 'Japlick' used (after asking me for a suggestion) for the footage is Charles Trenet, a favourite of Ian's and by a coincidence, probably not known to him when he chose one of Trenet's songs, was used in what, from memory was the last movie Ian worked on (though it was released before Becoming Jane), Desaccord Parfait.
Tuesday 12 January 2010
Sneaking in at No 46 is Bleak House. A wonderful production and cast, but I remember filming it was rather uncomfortable for Ian at times because he had to sit for hours at a time without a break and he hated the wig he had to wear.
Friday 1 January 2010
Both were contributors to We Could Possibly Comment - Ian Richardson Remembered .
Nicholas Hytner was one of the first people to agree to provide input, having worked with Ian in his National Theatre debut in The Alchemist, which was sadly his last stage role. Nicholas has worked wonders at the National Theatre and his latest innovation, broadcasting selected productions live around the world, has been such a blessing to so many people who would otherwise not get the chance to see these shows.
I interviewed Patrick Stewart in September 2007, in his dressing room at the Gielgud Theatre, where he was starring in Macbeth. He was extremely courteous and focused and provided a highly insightful tribute to Ian.
2010 already - it's frightening how quickly the decade has flown past.
I spent a good bit of New Year's Eve, having declined invitations to go out, watching the series Strange, in which Ian played a rather sinister Canon. I'd obtained the DVD a couple of months ago and as it wasn't a commercial recording hadn't got round to checking it yet.
Strange, penned by Andrew Marshall, was about a defrocked priest, John Strange - played by Richard Coyle - and his battle against various demons, aided by a nurse, played by Samantha Janus, and side-kicks played Andrew Lee Potts and Timmy Lang. Ian's Canon Black was there attempting to thwart his former charge at every turn, whilst giving dog's abuse to his young assistant, Doddington - played by Samuel Barnett. Ian had some wonderful lines in the series, invariably of the caustic kind.
Here's a very clever YouTube piece, which combined one of the best Rolling Stones tracks ever with visual clips of Canon Black very effectively.