Nobody expected a quiet night at Sir Hemsford Grey’s (93) Royal Shakespeare Theatre retirement party and they were right. Saying a warm goodbye to his actor colleagues, Sir Hemsford couldn’t help but deliver his opinion on today’s intake of modern actors.

‘If we’re not careful the whole profession is going to go down the proverbial pipe.

I of course accept that times have changed but in my humble opinion, for the worst.

Today’s acting fraternity have lost the common touch. The actor is no longer the vagabond, the outsider, the nere-do-well, the amusing drunkard. Today’s actor is squeaky clean, reliable and perhaps worst of all, on time. This is not what the public want.

In my day, no-one had any idea what time the show would start. Everything hung on how long it would take the lead man to sober up. Intervals were 30-minute trips across the road to the Arden Hotel hopefully returning in time for curtain up. Now, I’m afraid to say, the audience knows that they will, without any problem,  catch the last bus or train home.

In my day, the public could never be that sure what play they would get. You go to see Winter Tale and end up with something a little different. For instance, I remember the great Charles Longton-Shortly being so out of it that there were bits of his last three plays, none of which were Shakespeare, in one performance of ‘Midsummer nights dream’. It goes without saying the audience loved every minute of it. Standing ovations all round.Super.

And who can forget the late, more often than not, great Rupert Trelawney falling off the stage and performing the rest of the show, I forget what it was, unseen, in the orchestra pit. Great days…great days.

Now, I’m sorry to say and as I witnessed this morning in one of the rehearsal rooms as I was saying my goodbyes, instead of a swift snifter of the finest whiskey for a warm up breakfast, its press-ups and stretches all round. This is not an actor’s life.

This younger breed of perfect breathers, this physical perfection, this sculpted muscular torso has no place in this great tradition.

Ours, is noble profession second only to prostitution and politicians. If we cannot find the outsider, the imbiber of the finest ales at all hours of the day and night, to carry forward our great tradition. If we can’t find the, as I said before, the vagabond…then my friends, I’m afraid to say, we, are doomed.’

 

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