19 June 2010
Nora opened last week to acceptable reviews. Nothing that has challenged the vocabulary of critics as they seek new expressions of praise, but acceptable. This means The National should break even and the mood in the green room is sanguine.
I watch the leads chatting with each other before curtain; some of them read notices, some of them refuse. I happen to know that Nora herself was singled out as the strongest and most compelling aspect of the production and I agree. She is effortlessly real. And she’s slightly scary. You don’t know what she is going to do next.
I am impressed and slightly jealous. I was always lauded for my ‘animal presence.’ Now if anyone noticed my animal presence they’d try to shoot me - creeping around on stage in the dark, running into furniture, grunting in my balaclava. I might bite.
I’d shoot me.
I remember seeing Judi make an entrance in 1995 on the huge revolving Olivier stage in this very theatre. She and I had made plans to have a birthday tea in the canteen after the matinee (I’d bought her a needlework kit – every moment she wasn’t on stage she was cross-stitching; she was bloody good, too) and she’d got me a prime seat. Lights went down, music came up and she appeared, upstage, and began her cross down. She was dressed circa 1895 and carried a parasol, wore a spectacular hat. Lights began to fill the stage as she made her purposeful way towards us and with every step I felt an increasing sense of sitting in the presence of something I could not describe but that my soul recognised. The hair on my forearms rose, the skin on my lower back tingled, my body began to lift to meet the sheer irresistible power of her presence.
She kept walking – the stage is 45 feet deep – her skirts sashaying, her parasol swinging and with every step she grew more terrifying and more irresistible. Here, on an ordinary afternoon, on a rainy autumn day in a very familiar place, something wild emerged. It was like meeting a tiger in your garden.
I’d been a professional actress for almost twenty years and could not say then – and can barely describe now – the effect of her charisma. I was weeping by the time she reached the lip of the stage. Her character surveyed us - amused, erotic, hopelessly sad - and we were her happy slaves.
This is why we’re here, I thought. On earth. We’re here to be as alive as possible.
Judi is just more alive than most.
And in Nora I pride myself on being as un-alive as I can. If I am meant to be invisible, I am going to be the best bloody invisible character in the London theatre today.
(And as I wasn't mentioned in the reviews, I Am Obviously Succeeding Nobly.)