Put some sweaters in a suitcase, say goodbye to my loved one (the cat, I mean; my wife, Prunella, has already left for rehearsal), then get a cab to the National Theatre for the first read-through of King Lear, in which I'm to play Gloucester when this tour is finished. Ian Holm, Michael Bryant and David Burke have also grown grey beards, so we sit there like four gnomes in a garden.
Four-thirty train to Cambridge; technical rehearsal of Part I this evening. Lovely to be back in the beautifully refurbished Arts Theatre - I was here very happily with the old Prospect Theatre Company 30 years ago, when I was half an hour late for rehearsal one day having just witnessed the birth of my son Sam. Now here I am working with Sam. And doing much the same sort of thing.
The rehearsal goes well until we get to the first Boar's Head scene, in which liberal quantities of "sack" are poured from glass bottles. These have unexpectedly been replaced by large copper jugs. The jugs are heavy, difficult to manage, and impart a foul taste to the contents. Furthermore, they leak. Actors complain, impetus is lost, and by 11pm we have not reached the end of the play.
TUESDAY: Nice morning wandering along the "backs", and then trying to secure two seats for friends tomorrow night - we are booked out for the week.
Dress rehearsal this afternoon went smoothly, certain magic having been wrought by the stage management upon the copper jugs; in the evening we give our first performance in four weeks of Part I. I'm always nervous about the reception of Shakespeare in Oxford and Cambridge; the undergraduates have done the plays themselves, and may well feel they've done them better. But the audience was enthusiastic.
WEDNESDAY: Pouring with rain this morning, so I sat writing letters in my hotel bedroom. On subsidised theatre money I shouldn't really be in a hotel at all; it's costing me two weeks' salary. But I'm nursing a heavy cold, and I require comfort, do you hear? Technical rehearsal of Part II this afternoon: a very different play; the rhythms are slower, the feeling autumnal.
A lift to my day was provided by going to a wine bar and watching a waiter plunge down the cellar steps with a case of champagne, breaking, apparently, every single bottle. The entire staff disappeared in shocked silence to the kitchen, and could not be lured out to give me my bill.
Back to Part I for this evening's performance. Not as good as last night, I thought, but they cheered, so who am I to say?
THURSDAY: Into the theatre at 9am to make up and dress for television extract for Theatreland and an interview with son, Sam. We're both quite good at interview flannel, and talk knowledgeably about our performances. I'm whisked upstairs for a lunch given by SOS Children's Villages, at which I have to speak, albeit briefly and indigestibly as we have a fight call at 1.45. (Equity rules stipulate, sensibly, a daily rehearsal of each sword fight. Falstaff exchanges only a few feeble blows, but they have to be rehearsed.) Then a slightly tired dress rehearsal of Part II, followed by quite a good performance of same in the evening.
FRIDAY: Sam having been in the films Carrington and Howards End, I took him to meet George "Dadie" Rylands in his rooms at King's. Dadie knew Forster well, and is one of the two surviving members of the Bloomsbury set. At 94, his memory is good and he described his production of Henry IV here for the Marlowe Society, with Michael Redgrave as Hal. Matinee of Part I during which I was racked with uncontrollable coughing while lying apparently dead. Part II this evening: these "marathon" days are popular with audiences, who make friends during the dinner break and part at 11pm feeling they've been through a lot together. I sympathise. By tomorrow, I'll have played Falstaff 11 times in six days. An interviewer asked me today how I filled my spare time.
Timothy West is on tour with the English Touring TheatreReuse content