Thursday, 21 May 2009

Unexpected laughter....and silence...

The day Judi Dench was made a Dame, she was appearing at the Royal National Theatre as the female lead in Anthony and Cleopatra. This production raised no laughs which was hardly surprising, until the night they did experience an unscheduled titter.

On the evening of the day in question, the late Michael Bryant, playing Enorbarbus, turned upstage and muttered en passant, "Well I suppose a fuck is quite out of the question now".

An extra-textual remark, but such was Michael's never other than immaculate diction that it was heard clearly by the first ten rows of the audience.

Michael was a character actor of great virtuosity and a mainstay of our Royal National Theatre for over twenty five years. Always a man of diligence and modesty, he was one of a small group of English actors who elevated whatever production they happened to be in.

When he played Polonius to Daniel Day-Lewis's Hamlet (in 1989), he stunned audiences with a pause. Giving instructions to an aide, he suddenly stopped speaking and searched his mind for his place in the play. After a long wait, he said, ''Where did I leave?'' The actor playing opposite him reminded him, and Mr. Bryant continued the dialogue.

He had waited so long that the audience wondered if it was Polonius or Mr. Bryant who had forgotten his lines. Actually, Mr. Bryant was word perfect in his Shakespeare. As an actress said later, in admiration, ''Michael does that every night,'' and, in so doing, he added a new dimension to Polonius. No longer was he a fussbudget. In Mr. Bryant's interpretation, he was an immensely caring and distressed parent.

He remains a man I would have loved to meet in real life.


  1. Naughty Michael, both of you!!

  2. And I would assume he always stayed in character. Such is a great actor.

  3. It's what you do after a mistake that makes you a true artist.

  4. Haha, tittering here, myself!

  5. What wonderful anecdotes about a great actor!

    I attended an outdoor evening performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Just as Hermia and her lover had decided to elope, heading towards the woods, all the lights went out. Several minutes went by, with the audience sitting silently in the dark, waiting for the play to move forward. Unfortunately for all of us, it stayed dark and at some point we were informed that we all had to go home. The lights had been cut for good, by some distant thunderstorm (this happened in Washington DC).

  6. Michael, I so needed that big laugh! Would you not love to have heard what Judi said in response? (I can't believe she did not have a reply!) or to have seen the look on her face?

  7. hehe....very good....

    I wonder how one can say what makes a good artist when one isnt one? for thought i suppose... :P

    well done as always M>..