The House of Redgrave: The Lives of a Theatrical Dynasty

Bee Wilson writes:

In the National Theatre’s inaugural season in 1963 Michael Redgrave played Claudius to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet. Apart from Olivier, the theatre’s first director, Redgrave, then aged 55, was its greatest star. Known to the public from his many film roles, and having just been named actor of the year by the Evening Standard for his Uncle Vanya at Chichester, which one critic called ‘the highest level of acting the contemporary theatre has to offer’, he was good box-office. A tall man who sometimes suffered vertigo on stage, he was finding his stage directions tricky. For his first entrance, he had to walk down a steep flight of stairs and then sit down. In rehearsal, he often missed the last step. On opening night, he went down the stairs gingerly to avoid stumbling. The critics praised his performance. Olivier seems not to have agreed. ‘When you came on as Macbeth years ago, dear boy,’ Olivier told him, ‘it was as if you were saying to the audience: “Fuck you – I am Macbeth.” Now, as Claudius, you are just dim. Why don’t you shine?’

(LRB 6 June 2013)

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