Birmingham Stage Company

John Harrison

12 August 2007

It seems I love people on the extreme end of the age-scale.

I love children - and I love old people. Indeed I've always enjoyed the company of older people. When I was 17 and studying at Clifton College, I was asked to tidy the garden of an elderly woman living in Clifton. After tidying her garden once, I rarely stepped into it again: instead I spent hours each week chatting to her in her flat. She was Daphne Heard, an actress who I later discovered had worked at The Old Rep in 1930's with Donald Wolfit. Most people know her from TV as the old Czech mother of Richard De Vere, Mrs Pooh, in TO THE MANOR BORN. I only knew Daphne for nine months, which is when she died. But in that brief time we became extremely close - almost like grandmother/grandson. It's a great source of pleasure that I still use her old cigar box for my make-up.

One of the greatest people I was lucky enough to have in my life was Rudi Shelly, the acting guru of the Bristol Old Vic who I met when he was just 75, a few years before I went to the school. Consequently we were friends before I became his student and he certainly become one of the most important people in my life, until he died at 90. It sounds strange, but I think of what Rudi taught me at least a dozen times whenever I am stage.

As I am now about to work on only my fifth play by Shakespeare, his teaching will be invaluable. Things that have stuck in my mind: When Shakespeare writes in short syllables, he wants you to slow down. If there is a repetition of words, your voice must build in intensity: don't swallow the repetitions. The use of rising inflections. The use of m, n and l to strengthen/lengthen a word. How suspence can be built through slow motion (it sounds weird but when you discover how it works, it bowls you over!).

Paul Scofield and Derek Jacobi are my company's patrons and through them both I met John Harrison, another man of years who had retired as director of the Leeds Playhouse. Paul recommended John as a director and so we first worked together in 1997 on SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, one of the happiest shows I've been involved with, both on and off the stage. John then directed two Mamet plays for us - to perfection: SPEED-THE-PLOW and OLEANNA. He directed PROOF last year and now directs our third Shakespeare production, OTHELLO, following earlier BSC productions of HAMLET and ROMEO AND JULIET.

We have now cast the play and I am hugely excited by the team we have assembled. It seems clear we are all about to embark on a truly exciting venture.

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