Time to Remember: Paul Scofield

The leading classical actor of his generation, Paul Scofield CH CBE (21 January 1922 – 19 March 2008) is most widely remembered for his Academy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Award- winning performance as Sir Thomas More in the 1966 film A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. Scofield had originally played the same part on stage in the West End and in a Tony Award-winning performance on Broadway. Scofield was one of a handful of actors to achieve the “Triple Crown of Acting”, doing so in the shortest time span. Favouring stage over film and TV, he is now perhaps less well-remembered than his contemporaries.

After the death of the legendary actor in 2008, ANTHONY FIELD was moved to reflect upon his life, and one performance with which he had a deep personal association. This reminiscence is from February 2009.

A celebration of the life of Paul Scofield will be held on 19 March at St Margaret’s church, Westminster Abbey. I feel that part of my life has died with the passing of Paul Scofield. It is sixty years since I first saw him on stage in 1949 as Alexander the Great in Terence Rattigan’s ADVENTURE STORY at the St James’s Theatre. Those were the days when H M Tennent could produce a play commercially with a cast of 22 including Gwen Frangcon-Davies, Joy Parker (Paul’s wife), Cecil Trouncer, Robert Flemyng, Noel Willman and Stanley Baker. Superbly directed by Peter Glenville, Paul bestrode the stage like a colossus in the lead role.

Little did I think that almost forty years later I would have the honour of producing, together with Richard Pilbrow for Theatre Projects (and Robert Fox with James Walsh, Lewis Allen and Martin Heinfling), I’M NOT RAPPAPORT starring Paul Scofield – first at Birmingham Repertory Theatre (where Paul first made his theatrical mark, beginning his fruitful partnership with Peter Brook), then at Brighton (where he first set foot on stage as a young boy working as an extra) and finally brought into the West End at the Apollo Theatre. Few of Paul’ s obituary notices seemed to recall his astounding eight months in this Herb Gardner play when for eight performances a week he packed out the theatre. The Guardian critic wrote “we owe something to Theatre Projects for bringing us this unforgettable production. This solid gold hit gets standing ovations every night.”

After Paul first read the script, he told me “You can have a year of my life”. But he found playing the character of an 80 year old Lithuanian Jew hugely strenuous and I had to beg him to stay with it during our rehearsal time at Birmingham, telling him, in truth, “you are so like my Russian grandfather”. Some time later he wrote to me “I love doing Rappaport; every moment has been worth it.”

It had been a difficult job persuading Herb Gardner, the play’s author, and Daniel Sullivan, the director of the play in New York and then also for us in the UK, to confirm that Paul was ideal to play the role of Nat. They readily acknowledged that he was a great actor but were not convinced that he was appropriately cast in the play’s New York setting. It was only when we took them to see Paul in NINETEEN NINETEEN, a film about patients of Sigmund Freud, that they finally agreed that he would be perfect for the role.

At Press Night the critics went overboard; Michael Coveney ( in the Financial Times) writing: ” Less indulgent that his Salieri ( in AMADEUS), this performance confirms Scofield’s prowess as a ripe and irresistible comic actor. The difference between a great actor and a good one is that the former has the ability not merely to satisfy his audiences but to astonish them. Paul Scofield’s performance is exhilaratingly funny and achingly sad providing an enthralling lesson in dramatic technique.”

Actor Richard Harris said about Scofield ‘s performance in the play “it’s unbelievable. He puts us all to shame. Every drama teacher should make it mandatory for all acting students to see this man in this play.”

For a final word, we turn to Michael Billington, writing in the Guardian about the actor; “Scofield is a matchless comic character actor in the present-day West End where the play is a rapidly vanishing species.” Actors of the calibre of Scofield, who could be heard at the back of the gallery even when whispering, are also -sadly- a rapidly vanishing species.

Paul Scofield and Howard Rollins, Jr. in I’M NOT RAPPAPORT at the Apollo, 1986

AFTERWORD In a unique 2004 poll of all of the distinguished actors of the RSC, Scofield’s performance as Lear was voted as being “the greatest ever performance in a Shakespeare play”.  He originally played it at Stratford in 1962 for Peter Brook, from where it went on to tour the world. Although several other projects were discussed between Anthony Field and Paul Scofield over the next two decades after RAPPAPORT, sadly none of them reached fruition.

With thanks to the Estate of Anthony Field for permission to publish this article


Watch Now: Leicester Curve’s WHAT THE BUTLER SAW

Here is the 2017 Made at Curve and Theatre Royal Bath co-production of Joe Orton’s outrageous contemporary classic, WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, now available to view at home.

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW was Orton’s final play, completed just a month before his untimely death. This production, directed by Nikolai Foster, was performed to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Orton, the celebrated Leicester playwright.

Dr Prentice, a psychiatric doctor in a private clinic, is attempting to interview – and seduce – would-be secretary Geraldine . Unwittingly surprised by his wife, he hides the woman. The affairs multiply as Mrs Prentice is seduced and blackmailed by young bellhop Nicholas Beckett, and promises him the secretarial post. When a government inspector arrives, closely followed by Sergeant Match who is in search of missing parts of Winston Churchill, chaos, cross-dressing and mistaken identity lead the charge.

Please note: this play contains explicit content and language some people may find offensive.

This captioned archive recording is available until the lockdown ends.

Please bear in mind that this recording is an archive recording not originally intended for public viewing. The camera is positioned towards the rear of the stalls and takes in the whole view of the stage at all times. Nevertheless its still an enjoyable production!

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to Leicester Curve to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.

VIEWING PERIOD ENDED


Soho Theatre’s MR SWALLOW: HOUDINI

Who better to lift your spirits right now than the eccentric tour de force that is Mr. Swallow, a man willing to pay the ultimate homage to Houdini himself by recreating the master’s legendary underwater escape, live on stage!

Mr. Swallow is once again joined by his trusty assistants Mr. Goldsworth (David Elms) and Jonathan (Kieran Hodgson) as he charts his own imitable interpretation of Houdini’s life, fusing daredevil magic (his words), hilarious comedy (also his words) and a series of musical numbers that are, frankly, to die for (…yep).

Written, produced and starring Nick Mohammed, this archive recording from January 2017 captures the gentle but often absurd comedy of the characters during a six week sell-out run at the Soho Theatre, which I enjoyed very much when I attended.

The show’s availability has been extended until June 27th.

This production is being made available for a minimum donation of £4 which will go towards NHS and actors’ charities.

VIEWING PERIOD ENDED


Told By an Idiot’s I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU

Leading UK theatre company Told By an Idiot is responding to the Coronavirus crisis by releasing one show a week from their recorded repertoire. This week it’s one of their early experimental successes from 2003-5, I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU. And now you have an opportunity to see the show in the comfort of your own home for free.

Paul Hunter, the Company’s Artistic Director, says:

“Inspired by the death and work of French polymath and jazz obsessive Boris Vian, and created out of a life long passion for Jazz, ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’ was a freewheeling look at the nature of deception, an act of revenge, and the desire to live in the moment.

Suffering from a heart condition, Vian the author of ‘I Spit On Your Graves’ entered a Parisian cinema to watch an adaptation of his own cult novel. Thirty minutes later, and after shouting angrily at the screen, he was dead from a heart attack. Taking this as our starting point, we aimed to fuse our process of improvisation with the spontaneity of jazz musicians. With this experiment in mind we assembled a terrific team, Mercury Award nominated pianist Zoe Rahman, Idiot co-founder Hayley Carmichael, young trumpet player Mark Crown, and regular Idiot Stephen Harper. An extraordinary world was created by the visionary designer, close friend and collaborator Naomi Wilkinson (1963-2013).

It remains a show that is very close to our hearts, and was recorded in a time when the filming of theatre shows was a less sophisticated process. Enjoy.”


This company faces financial difficulty like all others, so please consider making a donation or becoming a supporter to help them keep going. Please give whatever you feel able.

The show is available on demand until May7th.

You can watch the show by clicking here