Saturday, 3 January 2015

Lucky Philosopher: Bristol and Drama


Living near the city of Bristol during my schooldays, I naturally took it for granted that there would be several plays and other stage shows running all the time. I was not aware that Bristol was unusual, being the main centre of English drama outside of London.

Tom Stoppard - the premier playwright of recent generations, was a local lad and began his career in Bristol, as did the then-well-known Peter Nichols and Charles Wood. And among actors there have been a significant number of stars who learned their craft in the Bristol Old Vic and its drama school; including Peter O'Toole, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart, Brian Blessed and Daniel Day-Lewis. (And, surprisingly, Gene Wilder! ^)


It was during my middle teens that I was able to take best advantage of this situation thanks mainly to an extremely enthusiastic and energetic English teacher (David Howe) who would book cheap tickets, and organize trips into the city and back home by minibus which he also drove. I am now amazed by his cheerful, generous dedication.

The Old Vic had a 'repertory' company - which changed a bit each year but throughout contained Alan Rothwell and Amanda Barrie as the character actor and actress, to play a wide range of villains and comic roles. I saw them perform a mixture of the classic plays - Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Goldsmith etc; other popular pieces from earlier generations (Hobson's Choice comes to mind), and some new plays including Jumpers and Travesties by Tom Stoppard, which stand out in my memory as being perhaps my most dazzlingly-enjoyable theatrical experiences.

I was very interested in drama as literature, in those years; and until I was about thirty read a lot of plays for pleasure - mostly borrowed from the library. There was - it seemed - a lot of classic drama on television, especially on Sunday nights (Ibsen, Chekhov, Restoration drama, and moderns like Pinter, Wesker etc); so within a few years, extending into university, I had pretty well covered the standard canon and the high status modern playwrights.


For some reason, although I was a decent actor, and took principal roles in many Gilbert and Sullivan (and similar) musical productions and also comedy revues; I never did much 'am dram' straight acting, although I wanted to. In fact, I only did one production - at the age of 28 playing Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, which went very well but was not followed-up. 

Perhaps the factor was moving to attend medical school in Newcastle upon Tyne at age 18; a city which was less good for drama, but better for another great love: classical music.

So, instead of acting; attending concerts and operas, and singing in shows and choirs, therefore became the main direction taken by my cultural interests.


^ Wilder's reaction in this clip is one of the best bits of comic acting I have ever seen

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