I don’t suppose many people reading this will have ever heard of Ralph Richardson – Sir Ralph Richardson, when he became one of the – then – rare theatrical knights (they’re under every bush, now). I happened to have a show playing at the King’s Head Theatre which might, could – just – qualify as a vehicle for one of the theatre’s giants. It was so hot that a director, Patrick Garland, was sitting in the front row taking notes of my production – poaching – just in case he got to play with the goodies himself.
Richardson came to see the show and he asked to see me. The entirely squalid mid-floor of the King’s Head was partially cleared for the great man’s visit and we sat together on bentwood chairs and had a chat. The play is called Revival! and its leading character is an actor-manager of the ‘old school’ who wants to commit suicide on stage in his production of Ibsen’s Master Builder in the hope of moving onto a higher plane of living – it’s an ingenious, Buddhist, comedy. Richardson wanted me to explain the soundness of the spiritual transition experienced by the leading character – its believability with regard to an average audience… I explained that the subject was central to much of the writer, Tom Gallacher’s, dramatic output, which was influenced by the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard.
‘Who the devil is the fella Kierke…?’ asked Sir Ralph. ‘Very funny play, but what’s supposed to be happening in the last act? Is the actor-manager chap supposed to be dead, or floating in limbo, or what? His family is pretending he’s invisible, aren’t they? It’s funny, but it’s odd.’
I did my best to be as objective about the merits and de-merits of the play as I could, and we left Richardson to think and decide.
I’d purposefully gone to see him perform in his current leading role at the Savoy Theatre in William Douglas-Home’s Lloyd George Knew my Father and our meeting ended with a hilarious conversation in which Sir Ralph expressed dissatisfaction with the state of our profession in a way I could never have predicted in a million years (but which I won’t quote here so as not to spoil the tale for readers of MY BOOK). Sir Ralph didn’t take up the play, but the opportunity to meet him and natter was – priceless.