THEATRE Shakespeare For My Father Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Friday 15 November 1996
True, when Sir Michael failed to show up at her school play, or to record her birth in his diary, or to put some feeling for her into his blank off-stage mask of a face, he can't have been thinking that, in the long run, this might well help turn her into the shrewdly observant, amusing, insightful person she became. On the other hand, would it really have been better for Lynn Redgrave, if he'd been a doting, self-sacrificial stay-at-home and she had grown into a contented bore?
That's one of conundrums that makes Shakespeare for my Father a fascinating, often brilliantly funny and, on occasions, deeply cringe-making evening. Looking like the product of a somewhat over-zealous fitness regime, she clambers on to the stage, laden with luggage and wearing an Australian bush hat, and proceeds to colonise the space - empty but for a couple of theatrical trunks and the kind of chair a Shakespearean king would sit in - with memories. Over the sharp pebble beach of her past, she goes on a barefoot, clowning sprint, throwing in some telling impersonations of the innumerable VIPs who have crossed her path (her illustrious siblings, Vanessa and Corin, or Edith Evans miraculously recovering from regal indisposition when told by Noel Coward that Maggie Smith can go on in Hay Fever in her place).
The main thread of the show is Shakespeare, whose work she came to know intimately as a girl obsessively watching her father in the great roles at Stratford. Lynn punctuates her spiel with moments and speeches from the plays that offer a painfully ironic gloss on her own situations back then. The awkward, tongue-tied little girl who felt herself the least loved becomes Cordelia, Lear's favourite, whose reticence is a moral stance not a psychological inhibition. Etcetera, etcetera.
The show is full of odd contradictions but they keep you hooked. For example, towards the end, she says, eyes shining with incipient tears, that "I shall remember the best of him". Yet what is she doing here, and on a nightly basis, but remembering aloud the less good bits of him as well? And why is her father's bisexuality referred to so obliquely when, given the prejudices of the period, it must have been crucial in making him the secretive, wary man who could not communicate well off-stage?
There is only one flat-out error of judgement. The first half is left on the cliffhanger of Hamlet's "To Be Or Not To Be" speech, but the question is translated to whether Lynn should throw herself in the river or go to drama school. If it didn't exist already, I think that for this (sorry Trevor) you'd have to invent the term "Luvvie".
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