Review - Villette at the West Yorkshire Playhouse - *Review by Richard Wilcocks* Charlotte Brontë’s *Villette*, which was recognised by knowledgeable readers in nineteenth century Brussels as a close parallel...
17 hours ago
One June evening in the year 2000, Alan Rickman clumped on to the main stage of London's Royal Court with Doc Marten boots, bicycle clips and a bad attitude. Mention to anyone that Rickman was taking part in a benefit for the restoration of Burmese democracy, and they would have expected yards of high-minded worthiness from him as he deployed that cawing voice to its most thrilling extent in a speech or a reading that concentrated minds on great causes. Instead he was performing a Victoria Wood sketch about a stroppy tour guide who had parked his bike in the Brontë Museum before dragging visitors round the place in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The whole thing came complete with a Yorkshire accent - which no one had realised he could do - and the kind of cosmic disgruntlement which men from that part of the world regard as their divine right. He could strop for Britain.We suppose the sketch was a variation on her Brontëburgers monologue (you can also listen to it here).
To add to the party atmosphere the assembled actors were all seated at tables on stage while waiting their turn to perform. They couldn't believe how funny and northern he was (the two are not necessarily synonymous). (...)
Rickman had been contacted early in 2000 by Glenys Kinnock, the wife of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock but prominent in her own right as a Member of the European Parliament. The Kinnocks were theatre buffs and had long since become friends with Rickman, a kindred spirit in socialism; Alan is also heavily involved in the charity One World Action, of which Glenys is the president. As organiser of a fund-raising benefit in support of Burma's imprisoned pro-democracy Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Glenys had asked Alan if he would join a celebrity cast for the show at the Royal Court in June that year.
Philip Hedley, Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, had a long record in directing such events. (...)
'Although Alan is very chatty and agreeable when you meet him, I had the cliche in my mind of the highly serious actor,' admits Philip. 'He had phoned me up about the choice of material before the show: he gave me, as director, a choice of three pieces - and the other two were much more serious. He actually auditioned over the phone, going through each piece. I very much liked the idea of the Brontë guide being wonderfully pompous and unknow-ledgeable about the Brontës, saying "Mind the bike" when visitors were tripping over it while trying to get round the museum. The character was wonderfully ungracious without meaning to be rude: he was down-to-earth, he didn't know how crass he was being. So I was attracted by the idea of Alan doing that.
1 can claim no credit at all for how good it was, because he just did it; there wasn't a run-through. We were not aware he could play a working-class character. This was a very unimaginative man, worthy of a Mike Leigh play; and Alan could do that difficult thing of playing the character genuinely, not patronising him, but also being enormously funny and adept at the same time. He pressed all the right buttons.