Ouch! There was a most unusual moment on Radio 4’s Front Row programme the other day when the very fine actress Lesley Manville had a pop at one of her co-stars in her new film, a certain Susan Boyle. Ms Manville said of the TV reality show winner: “She sings, and that’s wonderful, but she’s not an actress. It’s a shame that such a nice cameo role was not in the hands of any number of actresses who can act and sing and would have done it admirably...”
I’m not sure I can recall a top actress being so overtly critical of the acting skills of one of her co-stars. And yes, her remarks are given added spice by the fact that said co-star has something approaching national treasure status. But don’t knock Lesley Manville. Why should acting be the one job where you’re not allowed to criticise fellow professionals? Footballers have no problem with being critical on TV of fellow footballers. They’re just not usually ones on the same side.
Then, just as I’m thinking how refreshing it is to have a bit of plain speaking in the acting sorority, there’s even plainer speaking from the acting fraternity. Sir Ian McKellen in an interview with the Radio Times picked up on some comments by Homeland star Damian Lewis. Lewis had said that he had worried in his twenties that if he didn’t break out of theatre in time, “I would be one of those slightly over-the top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn’t start getting... film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards.”
Sir Ian, who seems to be in little doubt that he, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit wizard, was being referred to, hit back: “So he feels sorry for me, does he? Well I’m very happy, he needn’t. I wouldn’t like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on... stuck doing scripts that I didn’t particularly like just to keep the income up.”
Ah. Not the biggest fan of Homeland, then. Oh dear, this is all getting very tricky for the table planners of next year’s Olivier and Evening Standard Theatre Awards ceremonies. There will be more people not wanting to sit next to each other than at your average press awards dinner.
Dame Helen Mirren raised some eyebrows in her speech at the recent Evening Standard Theatre Awards when she said that hers was a “bitchy” profession, remarking: “Of course we’re bitchy, we are envious when we see other people doing work we’d like to do.” I don’t think Manville, Lewis and McKellen are being bitchy, I think they are being honest, giving vent to their true feelings about their profession, and showing that actors are different from one another. They have different aspirations and are not in sympathy with some of the developments they see, even if audiences are — using reality TV stars in cameos for example.
Ok, we enjoy the backbiting. But we should also be pleased that an artifical camaraderie at all times has given way to true dramatic expression.
The same old tune from those choosing the best plays
A survey by English Touring Theatre to find the nation’s favourite play saw The History Boys in top place, beating Michael Frayn’s comedy Noisess Off into second, with that promising effort Hamlet only managing third place. But what was the caveat I spotted at the top of the survey: “Musicals were not counted.” Here we go again. When the National Theatre marked the new millennium with a list of the 100 best plays of the 20th century, it too discounted musicals. At the time I summoned impresarios Cameron Mackintosh and Bill Kenwright to join me in protesting about this. Musicals are not a sub-species. They can be comic, tragic, poignant, enriching and highly original. The new survey of the nation’s favourite plays should have included musicals. Form where I sit at the back of the stalls it’s all theatre.
Hold that front page - Walford gets it right, and wrong
I’ve often wondered how EastEnders can claim to be true to life when no one in the series ever, ever watches EastEnders. But this week it did seem to be on the ball. I noticed that Mandela’s death featured, which must have entailed some last-minute filming, as episodes are normally filmed further in advance. Then, just as I was saluting its ability to be so up to date, I noticed in a Walford newsagent copies of The Independent (so far so good) but with a red masthead! We redesigned the front page and the rest of the paper some weeks ago, guys. Tell the props department.