A surprise behind me!

 1 June 2021 |

When the Shakespeare theatre, the Globe, was re-established about 20 years ago, I saw a production of Hamlet there with Mark Rylance in the lead role. It was a matinee but even so, the theatre was packed. On this occasion, I was lucky enough to have a seat but unlucky enough that the seat had no back. As the audience gathered, I nervously looked around to see who was tall or small, who was going to sit in front or beside me and who’s knees might I accidently rest on behind me. I was with friends so besides was fine; a small child sat in front – I was hoping this child would keep still, and she did – but behind was another matter altogether.

The knees behind were quite knobbly and from time to time struck me hard between the shoulder blades and I could feel irritation rising in the pit of my stomach. The next jab and I turned round. The woman doing the merry dance was not someone I recognised although I discovered she was at the theatre to celebrate her ninetieth birthday. I also discovered she had mild dementia. Sitting either side of this woman were her two daughters, working very hard to keep the older woman from gesticulating with too much energy. Its rude to keep turning around to see what this group were up to, but one voice I recognised as being very familiar. At the interval when their discussion turned to buying ice-creams, I managed a quick glance to see who owned the voice.

It turned out that was Vanessa Redgrave and she was with her mother, Rachel Kempson (the back abuser!) and sister Lynn. My irritation at being stabbed in the back dissolved and I smiled at them with a rather embarrassing smirk.

Redgrave is one of those actors who can turn out both a stunning performance and just as easily, an excruciatingly bad one. It all depends on the night, I understand. I have seen her live delivering both kinds but when she is good, she is brilliant. Whether bad or good, she is always a presence and always interested in the way society treats the poor and under-privileged.

For the past ten years, Redgrave has voiced the talk of ‘change, and love, humility and endurance’ at the start and end of each episode of the nostalgic BBC TV programme, Call the Midwife: as the Radio Times puts is, the quiet voice of humanity. Yes, one might find the series a little too sentimental sometimes, but it deals brilliantly with people of faith tackling life with all its complexities and struggles. It does so with honesty and openness. The main characters, despite being nuns, are just like us, struggling with what they believe in a world that challenges their every move. It is heart-warming and, to my mind, perfect for a Sunday evening.