Remembering the spellbinding Albert Finney (your views, February 28)
’Twas as a mere youth that I came across the illustrious Albert Finney (Obituary, February 11). His looks were almost archetypically British, with shades of Anglo-Saxon and Celt, and therefore he could play anything of a brazen and heroic nature. Having all this, his voice was the most unique part of him and, even as a young man, it seemed to reach down into the deepest depths of his soul.
Looking at him would impose on the viewer a sense that the gods in their benevolence had showered him with gifts and left you somewhat wanting. Even his hair sprung from his skull in a leonine torrent. When he smiled, his teeth were large and carnivorous, ready to eat you up.
So British, working class and beautifully vital, when Finney spoke, he took you to the crooks, crannies and coal mines of the north. I first saw him in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He plays himself in this sordid but highly energetic film, where the true Finney flavour is at its most resonant. And with that sonorous, operatic voice, he carries us into the heart of what it means to be British. We all identify with Albert. Our young lives were defined more by our insatiable passions than any ambition that might take us into higher zones of living. Even running for a bus in that film, he mirrors us all as we all ran for the bus in those good old grey days when we could just leap on and pull ourselves up by the grab rail.
The first stage show I saw him in was The Lily-White Boys, by Christopher Logue and directed by Lindsay Anderson at the Royal Court. In this poetically written musical satire with strong political statements, Albert again enchanted us from the very opening. Even at this early stage of his career, he seemed destined for greatness. Olivier could not fail to notice and appointed Finney his understudy for the epic role of Coriolanus, which he went on to play when Olivier injured himself.
When he played in John Osborne’s Luther, I was spellbound right up to his curtain call, when he was holding the hands of his fellow actors with that cherubic smile on his face, as though it was all a bit of a giggle. Again he played Tom Jones as a mirror for himself, which brought out the best notes in the Finney register. His role was passionate, hedonistic and Apollonian. I then saw him in Billy Liar and again he totally captured every nuance of the character.
Then came The Dresser, in which he did his take on a Donald Wolfit-type actor, touring the provinces with his bunch of underpaid, sad relics of wartime Britain. Again he encompassed the great actor-managers of yesteryear, even stopping a train with the power of his voice when he arrived on the platform a tad too late to catch it.
It was a voice we will never forget.
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Stage managers’ working conditions
I am so happy to hear that stage managers’ working conditions are to be reviewed. It’s time people started taking the ergonomics of working in a theatre seriously. For stage managers on a long run it can be terrible: a friend has repetitive strain injury from the position of the cue lights at her desk.
Thought should also be given to working positions in auditoriums for long technical rehearsal periods – I regularly need to see an osteopath during tech when the producer will not pay for seats to be taken out. In one case my programmer had to seek compensation from the producers due to long-term problems caused by the production desks.
Just because our working positions in a theatre are temporary, it does not mean they should be treated any less seriously than those in a regular workplace – especially with the huge increase in the use of computers in the auditorium during tech.
Conventional casting still works
Gender-swapping is valid – provided it works – but I don’t agree with Jade Anouka’s premise that “Shakespeare needs more gender-swapped casting to stay relevant”.
Shakespeare and other classics remain relevant if the issues in the plays are resonant with their audience. Let the plays, the players and the tenor of the productions do that.
Gender-swapping does not have to be a prerequisite for wide appeal. Rather, it should remain a choice for producers and directors, if they believe they can make it work effectively. Let’s not accept that a conventionally cast play has no impact, effect or appeal for a broad modern audience, because, surely, it still does.
Having joined a local theatre in Cyprus, I wonder if anyone can help with a query regarding a tradition of dropping a penny on the stage before a first night.
My understanding is that the newest or youngest member of the cast would drop the penny, so that no one will ‘drop a line’ during performances. I have researched the origin of this tradition but have been unsuccessful. Could any of your readers help?
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If your child wants to be a performer, tell them to put their whole heart into it or don’t bother and if they can see themselves doing anything else, do that instead.
Quotes of the week
“So many of my roles have been misfits, the outsiders – in Shakespeare alone Shylock, Iago, Caliban. That’s partly my appearance – I don’t have a typical Brit look. And it goes with my disposition. I understand people who feel on the edge of things.” –Actor David Suchet (Telegraph)
“Please remember, once the curtain comes down my job is over. Please be more thoughtful and courteous. Not just the kids, you grown arse adults too who should know better!!! I’m gonna start limiting requests, videos, boomerangs and Instagram videos to a straight up ‘no’ ” – Actor Layton Williams (Twitter)
“I know it’s gimpy to say, but I fucking love theatre. Honestly, I think it’s the best thing about civilisation. I’ve been going for years and I’m still amazed that literally every time I go I learn something about the craft, the world, humans, perspectives…” – Playwright Luke Barnes (Twitter)
“A lot of people can’t get to London, or don’t want to. So to take the theatre to them and to keep some of these beautiful old theatres alive is really important.” – Actor Juliet Mills on touring (Britishtheatre.com)
“When I’ve played female characters in Shakespeare, the corset isn’t a problem because women didn’t say much, whereas Petruchio says a lot, he hops from one thought to another – there’s no off switch. And all that’s got to be done in a corset and farthingale and a ruff.” – Actor Claire Price on her role in The Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Guardian)
“You can be extremely truthful and forthright and destructive with language. I’m passionate about that. If you control the language, you’re in control of your life.” – Actor Diana Rigg (Times)
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