Dame Diana Rigg, No Turn Unstoned, Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh, review: 'Richly entertaining'

Edinburgh Festival 2014: Rigg is terrifically good company

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The Independent Culture

She’ll forever be known to many as the catsuit-wearing Emma Peel in The Avengers, but veteran actress Dame Diana Rigg has also found a new generation of fans as the wimple-wearing, take-no-bullshit Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones.

This hour’s “entertainment” - as she calls it - is, however, much more focused on the theatre; Rigg’s had an illustrious career playing the classics too, of course. Part lecture, part jolly good gossip, No Turn Unstoned is a sharp-eyed look at theatrical history - and the twin history of criticism - from the birth of theatre in Ancient Greece up to the present day.

Naturally, this learned format is deliciously spiced with supremely luvvie tales from a long career on the stage, names like Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Scofield rolling plummily, chummily down the aisles…

Reading from papers on a music stand, glasses perched on the end of her nose, Rigg reprises previous performances based on her 1982 book of the same name, gathering  the worst and most snarky reviews ever bestowed upon poor playwrights and thesps. It is, she suggests, a comforting act of catharsis.

No one is safe from a “bad notice”: Hamlet was called “vulgar and barbarous” while Anthony Hopkins’ Lear likened to “a Rotary pork butcher about to tell the stalls a dirty story”. Her own worst comment - that she was “built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses” - naturally gets an airing, as does an eyebrow-raising anecdote about when the only acting note she received from Olivier involved the observation that she wasn’t wearing a bra…

It’s with some trepidation that one attempts to review such a show. Rigg delivers the withering criticism meted out to herself and to colleagues in a voice drier than poor Yorick's skeleton, and she’s also a markedly fierce presence, with no time for bad critics “on secondment from the sports desk.” Thankfully, Rigg also defends the professional scribes, considering criticism an “integral” part of the theatre that, at its best, “is an art”.

Although at the end she answers questions about her film career and fan faves like Dr Who and Game of Thrones (she loves it - except for the costume which is “a nightmare”), this is more for those who get misty-eyed over Olivier and the smell of greasepaint than those seeking Hollywood stardust. But she’s terrifically good company, and anyone who loves theatre - there should be a few of you around in Edinburgh at the moment - will find it richly entertaining.

To 23 Aug; assemblyfestival.com