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Michael's love of theatre

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Jan. 2nd, 1972 | 12:00 am

Michael loved going to the theatre. He went a fair bit with my parents, but they were not Shakespeare fans, and Michael had an extraordinary knowledge and love of the Bard.

He was a huge influence on my love of Shakespeare, and I saw my first Shakespeare play with him when I was very young. He took me to see the Royal Shakespeare Company, wanting to introduce me to "the best". He selected the play, prepared me for it by going through it beforehand, then discussed it with me in the interval and afterwards. It was brilliant I had someone to take me.

One of the Shakespeare plays of which Michael was particularly fond was “Richard II.” The verse is so familiar to me that I suspect Michael would have gone through it with me in depth when I was a teenager.

We discussed “Anthony and Cleopatra” when I was doing my A-levels, especially that amazing speech by Enobarbas.

This is the first part of the speech in which Enobarbus describes Cleopatra to Agrippa. It has very similar imagery to Homer, especially The Iliad. Michael thought it likely Shakespeare used Homer as a source for some of the imagery.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II.

Enobarbus: I will tell you.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,
O'erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.


“The Tempest” was another one of Michael’s favourites. I loved hearing him read Prospero's speech. Act 4 sc. 1, “Our revels now are ended.”

I first saw it with him when I was about 12; Michael would have been 30. I often wonder what people must have thought when they saw this solemn little girl speaking very earnestly to her "big brother" about the play. Michael never talked down to me, and would have discussed it with me in a way I could understand, but still in an adult way.

We saw The Tempest together many times. The first RSC production of it we saw was in 1978, with Michael Hordern as Prospero.

He also took me to see the RSC’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” in 1978, with Alan Howard and Glenda Jackson, as well as “Taming of the Shrew” with Jonathan Pryce in the role of Petruchio, arriving on stage on a motorbike, which I thought was so cool!

We went to see Coriolanus at the Barbican on a Saturday in 1989 or 1990, with Charles Dance as Coriolanus. It was directed by Terry Hands, whose work Michael admired. Joe Melia, [with whom he had a few scenes in the “Minder” episode, “From Fulham, With Love”] played Junius Brutus.

Michael had an astonishing memory, and could quote long passages from Shakespeare and Homer.

Other plays we saw together were The National Theatre’s “The Caretaker” (around 1980) with Warren Mitchell, Kenneth Cranham, and Jonathan Pryce, the RSC panto, “The Swan’s Down Gloves” (1981), “Good” (1982) and “Toad of Toad Hall” (also 1982).

From the programme, Toad of Toad Hall seems to have been it aimed at quite young children. Maybe he knew someone in it. I know he always had great difficulty believing I had grown up, but I would have been around 25 when we went to see that!

~~

Contributed by A.S., the daughter of one of Michael’s close friends.

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