Monday, 18 February 2013

Richard Briers


Have just read that Richard Briers has died. I was lucky enough to see him in Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife at the Shaftesbury Theatre around 1983, in what may have been the first run cast which included Carol Hawkins, Bernard Cribbins and Royce Mills. Naturally I knew him from television but this was of a different order altogether: there was a sense of his absolute control of the audience, his surfing the laughs which he had chosen precisely when to unleash. Can you unleash something which you subsequently surf? Probably not, but anyway he made it happen, and then he shaped it, determined the length. We were his willing instrument.

This may even have been my first visit to a London theatre, a couple of years before I moved here. Every single moment of that production - and Richard Briers was present more or less throughout - was sheer pleasure. I believe there is, or is going to be, a film version but I suspect it's a purely theatrical experience, and something akin to music. Coachloads may have come in to see Briers because of his telly fame but there is no doubt that he owned the stage and knew this genre inside out. I've only had a handful of great nights in the theatre but that was undoubtedly one of them. There had been a review in the Sunday Telegraph which may be online somewhere; if I can find it I'll add it below, but the main point it made was that farce is closely aligned to tragedy in terms of structure but it is "one of the hardest of theatrical trees to climb" (if I remember the crtic's words correctly) although Ray Cooney had successfully done so on this occasion.

So the source material presumably wasn't any hindrance to Briers giving a good performance, although I can think of other Cooney farces with other stars which don't stay in the mind in the same way. So let me salute the memory of a performer whom I was lucky enough to see in a farce which was a perfect fit. He once said of his 1956 performance as Hamlet (top) that it wasn't one of the best, but it was one of the fastest; beat by beat on that night in 1983 in the Shaftesbury Theatre there could have been no possible complaints about timing.


Postscript:

I have found an extract from that Telegraph review:

“A frolic? It is much more than that, it is a triumph. The brilliance of the structure, the imaginative joy, the scope for comic acting … put this entertainment at the top of the hardest of all theatrical trees to climb - that of farce.”

And I have just read that the film premiere of Run For Your Wife was only a couple of weeks ago.

With one Danny Dyer in the Richard Briers role.

Think I'll pass.

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