Sunday Express, 2008

Warren Mitchell — my interview with the actor in 2008

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warren-mitchell-till-death

I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, find which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

Pig-FarmI returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, try it was actually early, website like this landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The-Moderate-SopranoThe latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. medeaI also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

Kenneth-Branagh-WinterYou can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”
I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, online which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

Pig-FarmI returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, treat it was actually early, medications landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The-Moderate-SopranoThe latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. medeaI also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

Kenneth-Branagh-WinterYou can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”
I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, side effects which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

Pig-FarmI returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, click it was actually early, landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The-Moderate-SopranoThe latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. medeaI also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

Kenneth-Branagh-WinterYou can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here; m). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”

I feel slightly more confident about still going to cabaret, though, and on Monday night had a simply wonderful late night catching up with one of my long-time favourite Broadway singers Julia Murney at the Hippodrome, after seeing Xanadu earlier the same evening. And on Friday, I saw the British premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway show Big Fish being done at ArtsEd by third year Musical Theatre students: a whimsical delight of a show whose whimsy was rather drowned in a large Broadway show here reveals more poignant depths in the more intimate focus of a studio production, and greater clarity in the doubling up of actors to play the younger and older versions of the father and son at its centre. I actually cried twice at the story — and my eyes pricked with tears of pride regularly, too, as I watched these students who I’d taught in their first years showing their professional potentail.
I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, cost which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

Pig-FarmI returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, it was actually early, landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The-Moderate-SopranoThe latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. medeaI also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

Kenneth-Branagh-WinterYou can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”

I feel slightly more confident about still going to cabaret, though, and on Monday night had a simply wonderful late night catching up with one of my long-time favourite Broadway singers Julia Murney at the Hippodrome, after seeing Xanadu earlier the same evening. And on Friday, I saw the British premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway show Big Fish being done at ArtsEd by third year Musical Theatre students: a whimsical delight of a show whose whimsy was rather drowned in a large Broadway show here reveals more poignant depths in the more intimate focus of a studio production, and greater clarity in the doubling up of actors to play the younger and older versions of the father and son at its centre. I actually cried twice at the story — and my eyes pricked with tears of pride regularly, too, as I watched these students who I’d taught in their first years showing their professional potentail.
I’m seriously chasing my tail now after a week away in Gran Canaria that I reported on here last, health which meant I missed openings like RoosevElvis at the Royal Court (and now will miss entirely) and Husbands and Sons at the National (which I’m booked into at the start of December now). But I’ve have seen fifteen shows in the last ten days in between getting back on October 28 and leaving again for New York tomorrow (November 9).

Pig-FarmI returned from a week in Gran Canaria on a Wednesday afternoon — fortunately the Easyjet plane back wasn’t just on time, physician it was actually early, landing at 4.30pm instead of the scheduled 4.55pm, and meant I was on a train to Victoria soon after 5pm, and made it, with time to spare, for the 7pm first night of Pig Farm (pictured left) at the St James. Not that if offered much of a homecoming; my review for The Stage here shows that I might have been better delayed en route!

The next day, meanwhile, there was another of those annoying clashes of major openers, with the Old Vic’s rare revival of O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape going head-to-head with Hampstead’s premiere of David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano; I saw The Hairy Ape that night (reviewed here), and then caught up with The Moderate Soprano at that Saturday’s matinee.

The-Moderate-SopranoThe latter (starring a virtually unrecognisable Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, pictured left) found Michael Coveney awarding another of his now nearly-routine five-star reviews, and even he was drawn to note in his opening para here, “The trouble with handing out four or five star ratings, as I’ve been doing lately with alarming frequency, is that you feel some poor sucker’s got to get it in the neck tomorrow. Well, hey, as the new Times critic is wont to exclaim, hold that chopper, here comes another high five for David Hare after a whole bunch of them down at Chichester for his revelatory early Chekhov season.”

Coveney had also awarded a four-star rave to Pig Farm, that I — and several others— had given a far less welcoming two-stars to. But then the new Times critic (Ann Treneman) that he draws attention to has also recently been wayward, with a five-star rave for Ticking at Trafalgar Studios that many of her colleagues had given two-stars to.

But then I always say there’s no such thing as right or wrong in theatre reviewing, it’s always simply a matter of opinion, and how you justify that opinion that counts. I’m afraid that Treneman’s endorsement of Ticking still didn’t make me want to rush out to see it — with limited slots available, part of the critical choice lies in what you actually choose to cover.

But Coveney’s rave of The Moderate Soprano sharpened my anticipation for it, just as Treneman’s three-star diminution of the same play didn’t put me off. And I duly made my own mind up here. medeaI also finally caught up with Medea (pictured left) at the Almeida, which opened when I was last in New York — since I’d missed the press night, I splashed out on two of the £10 front side stalls seats (billed as restricted, but in fact only very partially so) for my husband and I to have a night off at. Hardly the most romantic choice, of course — this is a play about the fall-out of the disintegration of a marriage in this very modern re-telling of the fabled play — but I’m very glad to have caught in, and in particular Kate Fleetwood’s bruising performance as a woman furiously grieving over being dumped by her husband. (Since Fleetwood’s own husband Rupert Goold directs her, it’s hardly the most romantic choice for them to work on it together, either)

This last week, meanwhile, has taken me from a theatre on my doorstep in Southwark to visit Venice Breach in California (in the musical Xanadu, reviewed here) and Bristol to watch a nanny flying over the rooftops of London that I’d left behind (in Mary Poppins, reviewed here) to the North Pole (via the London premiere of Elf – the Musical, reviewed here) and the Forest of Arden (in the National’s As You Like it, reviewed here)

Kenneth-Branagh-WinterYou can’t say theatre critics don’t get around! I’ve also had a bumper weekend of it this weekend — the critics piled into the Garrick yesterday (all on their lonesome ownsome, since we were unusually only afforded single tickets) for the opening two productions in Ken Branagh’s year-long residency of his own company, both of which he co-starred in and co-directed (my review of The Winter’s Tale, pictured left, is here; my review of Harlequinade is here). And later today I’m doing another theatrical double-bill, seeing The Stationmaster, a new musical by my friend Tim Connor at the Tristan Bates as part of producer Katy Lipson’s From Page to Stage festival of new musicals, and then catching the latest edition of La Soiree, a personal seasonal favourite, on the South Bank.

All that, and Charles Aznavour at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening — an experience seriously marred by a sea of mobile phone users taking photographs and filming it throughout, so eventually I left after about an hour — having paid £85 (plus booking fee) for my ticket. I protested to the duty manager as I left, and discovered that it was an official policy not to intervene. The battle is officially lost and I’m going to stop going to live concerts entirely. As Judi Dench points out in an interview (links to paid content) in today’s Sunday Times about the Branagh season, “I can’t see well but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.”

I feel slightly more confident about still going to cabaret, though, and on Monday night had a simply wonderful late night catching up with one of my long-time favourite Broadway singers Julia Murney at the Hippodrome, after seeing Xanadu earlier the same evening. And on Friday, I saw the British premiere of Andrew Lippa’s Broadway show Big Fish being done at ArtsEd by third year Musical Theatre students: a whimsical delight of a show whose whimsy was rather drowned in a large Broadway show here reveals more poignant depths in the more intimate focus of a studio production, and greater clarity in the doubling up of actors to play the younger and older versions of the father and son at its centre. I actually cried twice at the story — and my eyes pricked with tears of pride regularly, too, as I watched these students who I’d taught in their first years showing their professional potentail.
In 2008 I interviewed the veteran actor Warren Mitchell, search who died yesterday (November 14) at the age of 89, ahead of his final West End appearance in  a play called VISITING MR GREEN that came to London’s Trafalgar Studios. That performance was described by Charles Spencer in a review for the Daily Telegraph as “unmissable”.

visiting-mr-green visiting-mr-greenAs Charlie beautifully wrote, “His face has acquired the look of wise, curious tortoise, albeit a tortoise with a bristling moustache, and he certainly hasn’t lost that knack for testy irritation that was such a feature of his performance in Till Death Us Do Part. His comic timing is spot-on, and he has an astonishingly touching old man’s gait, half weary shuffle, half hopeful skip. Best of all are the actor’s moments of sudden tenderness, when Mitchell seems to be living the role rather than acting it. For those seeking subtle, deeply-felt acting in old age, Mitchell’s beautifully judged performance is unmissable.”

Here’s my interview with the great actor, posted in its unedited form (it was published in the SUNDAY EXPRESS, but I no longer have whatever was done to it!)

***

VISITING MR MITCHELL
Mark Shenton visits Warren Mitchell at his new North London home, as he prepares to return to the West End once again in Visiting Mr Green.

“This is the house that Alf built”, says Warren Mitchell when we meet at the North London home that he and his wife of 56 years, Connie, have just recently moved into. It’s a brand-new build, and has been constructed right next door to the house they used to live for about 40 years on the fringes of Hampstead Heath. He is now 82, and ushering me into the lounge, he adds, “We are now sitting on the serving line of what used to be the tennis court.”

He used to be a keen tennis player and even now he still has serious sporting ambitions, even if he realises they are a bit ambitious: “I would love to sail around the world – sailing is my grand passion, but I probably never will now. You’ve got to be rather skilful at mending things that break, and I’m not very good at that.”

Right now, things that don’t work are troubling him: Connie comes in to say that the coffee pot is in the dishwasher and it is mid-cycle, so we’ll have to have tea instead. “We’re held up by gadgets where ever we turn in this house – we don’t know how to operate almost anything. I can’t get Sky Sports, and I want to watch it this afternoon but I can’t!”

But that’s not the worst of it. About 18 months ago, he suffered a stroke, “and I haven’t really made much of a recovery yet.” Yet this Tuesday he opens in the West End in a play called Visiting Mr Green, and visiting Mr Mitchell today, he is looking on the bright side of things: “The part I play is that of a man who has been knocked over by a car, so that’s lucky!” He can use his own infirmity to portray the character’s. And he says, he has hardly stopped despite it: “After the stroke, I went straight back to rehearsal, and to a certain extent it was therapeutic – instead of worrying and thinking and being sorry for myself, I had to get up and go to work.” Were the lines still there? “Some were, but not many – I had to bash them in again.”

 That was for an earlier run of this play, which he has been doing on and off for nearly a decade – he did it first in Leeds back in 1999, and has also toured with it in Australia. warren-mitchell-till-deathTill Death Do Us Part’s Alf Garnett (pictured left) again makes an appearance when we talk about those times: “The money to build this house came from standing up in clubs in Australia and doing my jokes as Alf – it was quite lucrative for a while”.

He is grateful to Alf for some things: “Connie and I will probably have a reasonably comfortable retirement, much of it because of Alf.” Not that he’s thinking of retiring any time soon. And it has sometimes proved difficult being too closely associated with such a bigoted, reactionary character, especially when members of the public have actually applauded him for his character’s views: “I had a bloke come up to me at Tottenham one day and he said, I love that show of yours, Alf, you know, when you have a go at the coons. I said, actually, we’re having a go at idiots like you. There’s not much you can do about it, if they’re stupid enough to believe it.”

He’s also done a lot of serious stage work, too, including acclaimed, award-winning runs in plays by Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter at both the National Theatre and in the West End, and has played the title role of King Lear in Australia that he later brought to London (pictureed left)king-lear. “It was a mountain to climb, but easier than I thought. People said to me, how could you banish your daughter from the house like he does, it is so heartless – but I replied, I have two daughters, and they get banished once a week!” He says this with a mischievous glint in his eye, but he’s obviously a fond family man: later that day, he was going to be seeing them both. The youngest, Georgia Mitchell, is an actress; the eldest, Rebecca, is a probation officer who is training to be a psychiatric counsellor. His middle child, Daniel, is also an actor who now lives in Australia – and coincidentally starred in this play with him when he did it there.

What was appearing with him like? “It was great – if he didn’t do as I told him, I just said go to your room and don’t out till I tell you! I had a bit of business I got very attached to, and he said, ‘dad, if it gets any longer, I’m going to walk off’. I said, ‘if you do, you’ll be sorry!”

The play is a two-hander in which Mitchell plays an elderly man who is almost hit by a speeding car driven by a young corporate executive – who, after being found guilty of reckless driving, is ordered to make amends by paying weekly visits to his victim. What attracted him to do it? “It’s a nice big part – it was lip-smacking, and I thought I could get my teeth and old lips into it! And the money wasn’t good but it wasn’t bad, either!”

He has toured with it extensively before coming to London, and says, “I’ve always felt that actors should go out to the provinces – not that I enjoy the average English country hotel; they’re shocking, and as for facilities for disabled people, forget it.” In his new house, he’s made sure that such facilities have been provided: “We put a lift in for the old fella, which is very handy.”

He and Connie also have a house in the country in Suffolk, and he says, “Connie adores it – mostly to get away from me! She finds it an absolute sanctuary.” Is he that difficult? “As an invalid, I’m very difficult,” he admits frankly. “I don’t like being ill.” But he fights it, too: “I have to nurse myself a bit, due to my age and illnesses. But I get up and try to do some yoga every day, to push myself a little bit physically.” And then, every evening, he pushes himself mentally, too, as he takes to the stage once again. “Theatre is a very big part of my life. I love it – I like the idea of getting up in the morning and knowing that you’ve got to go to work that night.”