\Over the three productions I did with Sophie Winter, I grew to appreciate her true potential as an actress, her extraordinary capacity to convey innocence and vulnerability, plain, simple, unselfconscious goodness. All of which were offset by her unique strand of individual humour. Winter was far closer to Buster Keaton than Orphan Annie.
As with the great original clowns, the source of her humour was impossible to trace. Sophie Winter was a director's, especially a comic writer/ director's, joy. Anything you asked her to do she would try - a few ideas she might return to you later with a modest, apologetic smile at her failure to make them work. But mostly she happily seized upon and, having viewed them through her own quirky lunatic lens, returned to you freshly minted.
Sophie Winter trained at the Arts Educational School and her first professional role was in Sleeping Beauty in Cambridge, after which she toured nationally as the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Her regional work included playing Sybil in Private Lives at the Bristol Old Vic, and Jean in The Entertainer in Farnham.
In London, she was Sister in A Respectable Wedding at the King's Head and played in The Scarlet Pimpernel, which transferred to the West End from the Chichester Festival Theatre. On television she appeared in Executive Stress, All at No 20, Fizz and Never the Twain.
I first worked with her when she played Mary in Love Off the Shelf, then again on Two Weeks with the Queen, in which she played Mum and Iris. Our last meeting was at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough where she was to play Gussie in my latest play, A Word from Our Sponsor. The play has since transferred to the Minerva Theatre, Chichester.
The relationship between actor and director takes many forms. For some, over the course of a production, it's an intimate intellectual, spiritual, often passionate experience resulting in deep personal friendships, long after the show in question has been forgotten. At the other directorial extreme there is a preferred distant affair, based on mistrust and uncertainty, even fear or downright antagonism.
For me, as ever midway between, there's a sort of happy medium. Outside the workplace there's a mutually agreed distance between the two of you, actor and director, the sort a patient might enjoy with their GP, say: yet within the rehearsal room itself a closeness, a trust and understanding that resembles more a marriage than a working relationship.
I suppose, extending that metaphor, that Sophie Winter and I were comparative newly weds. Undeniably married, we had made a number of unwritten, unspoken vows to each other. With my talents, such as they be, I thee entrust. That sort of thing. An odd relationship to be sure, sharing, as we did, so much so intimately, being privy to her creative centre, gradually growing to understand her emotional working while at the same time knowing little or nothing about her public and certainly her private life.
Hers was a talent I needed and loved. I had hoped that in return I could have had a part in encouraging and nurturing that talent through a few more plays together. I think we would both have enjoyed that.Reuse content