Janet Suzman presided and I had a conversation with her prior to her mounting the rostrum about her Antony and Cleopatra production last year at Liverpool, and at later its revival at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Both of us much preferred it at Liverpool, confined behind the proscenium and much more intimate and in contact with its audience. Kim Cattrall, I felt, as Cleopatra was so much better at Liverpool, on her home ground and found it harder to project in the Tyrone Guthrie round auditorium. Her earlier performance was sharper. She was good on the passion, but short on projecting the wily, manipulative trickster (a surprise, you’d have thought, after Sex and the City). On that occasion of the Liverpool first night, at the party afterwards, Ken Dodd, well over eighty, held forth in non-stop stand–up form for over an hour, and did amazing imitations of my father (who was a big Liverpool favourite in his day) singing ‘I’ll take you home Kathleen’ and ‘I’m only a strolling vagabond, so good night pretty maiden, good night!’.
Janet in her introduction to the awards amusingly recounted how a stage door keeper couldn’t pronounce the name of the legendary Michel Saint-Denis, then a director at Stratford, when calling up a taxi. My first ever theatre job was as Saint-Denis’s assistant at Stratford. Danny Boyle got a boost to his career at the Royal Court when Max Stafford-Clarke was running it, while I gave Max a part on and off-stage as ‘stage manager’ at the Traverse in my production of Six Characters in Search of an Author performed with just five actors— which led to him, when I left, running the theatre.
Strange how over time these critic-artist encounters reverberate. Max regaled us with his account of how after a terrible critical panning at the start of his directing career he carried Harold Hobson up and down the stairs of the Theatre Upstairs(‘his tweed jacket chafing my cheek’), this earning his first unconditional, ecstatic review from Hobson, saying the theatre had to be filled every night. Not too difficult –it was the Theatre Upstairs. But now he himself had ended up a ‘raspberry’ like Harold (rhyming slang, ie ‘raspberry ripple- cripple’)—he had a stroke in 2007. There was no sign at all of this, except for a walking stick: Max was on scintillating form and cheerfully defined how the relationship between critics and artist should be ‘constantly renegotiable,’ which means if you get a lousy review you don’t straight away go and stick your head in the gas oven.