I have very fond memories of Bath from when I was here with Northern Broadsides’ Othello on tour in 2009.
The town was very welcoming – business was good and the theatre was a joy to play. In existence since 1805, the Theatre Royal is one of the oldest theatres in the country. In 1905 Henry Irving made his farewell performance there – I believe he was in a revival of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE by Ray Cooney, but I can’t be sure.
The theatre has always had renovation problems , undergoing extensive structural repairs during WWI. However, during 1940 and 1945 it thrived during the second world war, surviving the extensive bombing of Bath during the blitz (I reckon some crisp ten pound notes exchanged hands there).
You can find more on their web site www.theatreroyal.org.uk.
All you need to know really , is that it’s a heritage theatre, often playing hosts to such acting luminaries as Paul Schofield, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Ustinov and Sir Peter Hall.
There are a lot of students in Bath – I remember coming here for my work week with the Open University. A host of mostly 40 something mature students descending on the place, demanding education, snogging and all night raves. It was a hoot and I’ll never forget it.
So here we are – I’m just about to plunge into the first two weeks of a tour of August Wilson’s FENCES.
Ever since I met James Earl Jones whilst making TRUE IDENTITY I’ve been fascinated with his work. He’s done Othello three times, played Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – he worked with Kubrick on Dr Strangelove and he was in Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner – and let’s not forget his superb voice work on Star Wars as Darth Vader and also – THIS IS CNN!
Before I met up with him, I took the liberty of doing some research and discovered that he had won a Tony award and Pulitzer prize for a play called Fences. Which had premiered in 1985. I also knew that for a while Eddie Murphy had bought the film rights for the play.
I bought a copy of the play and scanned it, but the part of Troy Maxson – ex negro league baseball player, now garbage collector – seemed to be a mountain; multi-levelled, dark and hugely verbose. A no-no for me at the time as I wasn’t in the right place.
I hadn’t done any theatre at the time and was mortally afraid of the whole thing – what go someplace and learn lines and then go on stage and spit them out? For weeks at a time? For no money??? bugger that.
That’s how I rolled back then.
But since Othello and Comedy of Errors – I have become much more amenable to theatre – guess what? It’s where you learn to act. Who knew?
If only I’d done a load of theatre before embarking on making True Identity… I might have known what the director was talking about. (I can only apologise to all concerned for True Identity – I was not in my right mind at all… I was ‘Puppydog man’! Yes I’ll do anything you want – get the stick? I’ll get the stick? Act in a movie with no training whatsoever? Sure – but can I get the stick first?)
So anyways – I talk to James Earl Jones and he tells me about Othello “It’s not just about envy…” and he mentions Fences, tells me to look at it.
I put it to one side.
Enough of “if only’s” – when the time came (just after Comedy of Errors) to figure out what next in the theatre, the obvious choice was FENCES. It was a contemporary piece, it had a long track record of attracting talent (I think Denzel had just finished a stint on Broadway) and Paulette Randall (Fab Director with a history of working on Wilson’s plays in the UK – also assisted on Danny Boyle’s legendary Olympics opening ceremony) wanted to get involved. It was a good fit.
So the talking begins and a deal is done and suddenly I’m doing FENCES by August Wilson with Paulette Randall directing and a wonderful cast. We’re doing a little tour starting in Bath but then going to Richmond and Theatre Clwyd and Milton Keynes and Oxford and Cambridge and Malvern.
It’s a wonderful play; profound and funny and moving (sometimes all at the same time.)
I’m honoured to be working with such a wonderful cast and team – all of whom are on the same page.
Here’s some information about August Wilson’s work, life and Career: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Wilson, and here’s all the information about the Bath Theatre Royal run: http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3009/Fences/516.
Wish me luck for Wednesday.