h e a t r e
Antony and Cleopatra
i n t e r v i e
Bates interview in the Evening Standard
which touches on "Antony and Cleopatra"
as well as "The Cherry Orchard."
But you're beautiful,
For decades Frances de la Tour has been denied
the great classical roles that she covets.
Tonight she finally gets her break.
In an exclusive
interview for the Guardian,
she talks to Lyn Gardner, Tuesday January 18 2000
An Appetite for Big Things
In an exclusive
interview for the Daily Telegraph,
Alan Bates tells Michael Owen about his role
in the RSC's controversial new "Antony and
Cleopatra," and how life goes on after
the deaths of his wife and son.
by Marion McMullen
THERE will be
no hissing when Alan Bates and Frances de la Tour take to the
stage as passionate lovers Antony and Cleopatra because the couple
have already made it clear they WON'T
share the spotlight with a real snake.
Theatre snakes have stolen the
headlines from the stars in the past with their dramatic backstage
escapes. So this time Cleopatra's famous snake is being replaced
by a plastic fake and there will be no slithering in the Royal
Shakespeare Company's new Stratford production.
"If we have a real snake
on stage the audience know it can't possibly be poisonous and
that takes away the belief. It's much better to use the imagination,"
At 65 and 54 respectively, Alan and Frances admit they present
a rather mature Antony and Cleopatra, but they have played lovers
on stage before and recently worked together on the new film
version of "The Cherry Orchard."
"We feel we know each other
perfectly well and that's a good way to start off playing Antony
and Cleopatra," says Frances.
For Alan, the chance to play
one of the world's greatest lovers is a wonderful addition to
a glittering career.
The star of hit films like "Zorba
the Greek," "Whistle Down the Wind" and "Far
From the Madding Crowd," began talks four years ago about
the possibility of playing Antony.
He nearly got his chance at the
Royal National Theatre with Helen Mirren as his Cleopatra, but
surgery prevented him taking the role and the part went to Alan
Alan and Frances have an easy
rapport, with Alan happy to take a back seat as Frances chatters
on about her role and the play.
Of course, they both have a lot in common. They have both
played Hamlet, both enjoyed success at the RSC and both have
a list of acting credits as long as your arm. Alan actually made
his professional debut in Coventry in 1955 with the Midlands
Theatre Company. He went to Rada with Peter O'Toole and Albert
Finney and appeared at the College Theatre in [the] new comedy
"You and Your Wife" after leaving drama School. A year
later he was starring at London's Royal Court in "Look Back
The Midlander returned to Coventry
in the 60s to star in Arnold Wesker's "The Four Seasons"
with Diane Cilento at the Belgrade Theatre and first appeared
with the Royal Shakespeare Company nearly 30 years ago when he
played Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" back
"It's a bit like coming
here for the first time. It doesn't feel like I'm coming back.
I do love the area and I'm looking forward to working on the
new stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It is much more intimate
and accessible. I really do feel I'm here for the first time.
Everything is fresh."
As well as "Antony and Cleopatra," Derbyshire-born
Alan is also starring in "Timon of Athens" and looking
forward to returning to Shakespeare again. With Frances as his
Cleopatra, Alan promises the production will be "a meeting
of temperaments." He jokes: "It's a private play about
epic people...or should that be the other way around?"
A theatre for my
by Nick Curtis
Frances herself says she is taking
each day as it comes in her preparation to play Cleopatra, but
she is no stranger to Stratford audiences.
She went straight from drama
school to the RSC in 1965, and spent six years with the company.
Her theatre credits include Peter Brook's production of "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Duet For One," written
specially for her by Tom Kempinski, her former partner and father
of her two children. She also spent four years in the 1970s comedy
"Rising Damp," and has appeared on TV recently in "Cold
Lazarus" and "Tom Jones."
"Cleopatra is an extraordinary,
exciting and emotional woman," declares Frances. "She
could be beautiful and ugly, thoughtful and gentle. But,"
she laughs, "I think she meets her match in Antony."
THIS has been
a busy week for Alan Bates. The burly, 64-year-old theatrical
bulwark of the 1960s acting generation opened opposite Frances
de la Tour in Steven Pimlott's Royal Shakespeare Company production
of "Antony and Cleopatra" on Wednesday, then plunged
straight into rehearsals for "Timon of Athens." But
Bates's thoughts, or at least those he's prepared to share, are
not on Stratford: they are on the Tristan Bates Theatre, the
venue he founded to commemorate his son, who died aged 19 of
a rare allergic reaction while on a modelling assignment in Japan
with his twin brother Benedick in 1990. Last night, one day after
"Antony and Cleopatra" started, the TBT reopened as
a producing organisation rather than just a venue for hire, with
Mark Wing-Davey's premiere of Brighde Mullins's new Irish play,
The story began when the Actors
Centre moved from Chenies Street to new premises in Covent Garden's
Tower Street in 1994.
"I had been looking for a theatre to endow in Tristan's
memory," says Bates, "and had some negotiations with
his old school, which didn't come off. Then, when I was shown
around the new premises of the Actors Centre there was this empty
room. I said 'what's this space here, then...?'."
A theatre was a logical choice
for a memorial, since both Tristan and Benedick had decided in
1990 to follow their father onto the stage. "That was where
his life was to be, so it made sense to set up something practical
and functional for people of his age."
And rather than, say, a drama
school bursary, the TBT can be used by all the trainee performers
at the Actors Centre. "It covers so many people: there's
something going on in there at all times of the day." It's
also right beside that essential resource for young thesps, the
centre's exceedingly cheap bar. "Yes," says Bates wrily,
"that's good too, isn't it ? " He has been impressed
by the "four or five" productions he has seen there,
but the TBT was always meant to be more than just a space for
rent or rehearsals. "
We always wanted it to be run by an artistic director,"
says Bates, "and I think Mark's plans for it, starting with
this season of Irish plays, are excellent. It will produce work
for about six months of the year, which I think makes it viable.
I'm not very good with finances."
He has, however, been very good for the TBT's finances.
In addition to the original £50,000 he put up to endow
the theatre, Bates staged a six-day series of Philip Larkin readings
last year with director Patrick Garland to raise money. There's
also a fund he has set up -- "there's not much in it at
the moment" -- and the possible money-spinner of a full
Alan Bates production at the theatre: "I'd like to do something
there myself, certainly, either acting or directing. It's an
ideal venue for intimate performances." For now, he is backing
a Lottery application to build a new, dedicated entrance for
Working with and for the TBT
has not, though, made the pain of Tristan's death any easier
to bear, particularly since Victoria, Bates's wife of 24 years,
died in Sardinia two years after her son, of a wasting disease
possibly brought on by grief. "Nothing can really help you
cope with events like that," says Bates. "But setting
up the theatre has helped me to make sense of Tristan's ambition
and his potential." Both traits are also commemorated, of
course, in Benedick, now a successful actor who co-starred with
Alan in "Fortune's Fool" at Chichester in 1996.
Father and son still live "within
striking distance" in St John's Wood, but Bates senior is
wary of dragging his surviving son into the story of the TBT.
"Please don't overdo the Ben thing," he says. "I
don't mind speaking up for Tristan and Victoria because they're
not here to speak for themselves, but Ben deserves a life which
isn't always tied to three other people." He and Benedick
are, he says, "great mates", and will work together
again "if it happens. You can't push things like that. "
Work has always been Alan Bates's great solace. After his
early success as Cliff in the 1956 production of "Look Back
in Anger," and as the stud-muffin star of Sixties movies
like "Georgy Girl," "Far from the Madding Crowd"
and the infamous "Women in Love," Bates has kept on
working, spreading himself across different media but always
returning to the stage. Now, more than 20 years after his last
appearance with the RSC, he's back in Stratford and tackling
two of Shakespeare's heaviest and hardest roles. "Antony
and Cleopatra" continues the Bates/de la Tour double act
that began "years ago" with Strindberg's "The
Dance of Death" at Riverside Studios, and continued more
recently in a film of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard,"
which is due out in August.
He's sorry that he was on stage
when Fire Eater opened last night at the TBT: "But, to be
honest, there isn't anywhere else I'd rather be." |||
"Antony and Cleopatra" is at the Royal Shakespeare
Theatre, Stratford, box office 01789 403403. "Fire Eater"
is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 17 July, box office 0171
The Evening Standard
to the RSC
Yolanda Sonnabend's new production
design for the
RSC is so lush she hopes it
doesn't remind people of the
Hilton, she tells Rupert Christiansen
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 25 June 1999
IN a broad and tree-lined street in north London stands a
sober-fronted Victorian villa which looks like any other. Once
ushered behind its plain black front door, however, you are transported.
Every room, kitchen and bathroom included, is a magician's lair.
Walls of books and paintings, ferocious African masks, rococo
head-dresses, gnarled sculptural shapes, huge vases filled with
paint brushes, swathes of gorgeous fabric, all presided over
by exotic guardian cats -- it is Borges's labyrinth, it is Prospero's
cave and Dr Coppelius's workshop. It is also the suprisingly
pleasant and, in its fashion, orderly home of Yolanda Sonnabend,
who has inhabited it for many years.
Her domestic surroundings are
evidence of a deep and dark visual imagination which has made
her one of the most flamboyant and original stage designers of
the past 40 years, as well as a distinguished artist in other
genres and a much-loved friend and teacher to many. The latest
project to absorb her like some medieval alchemist has been the
new production of "Antony and Cleopatra," which opens
tomorrow, directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon
by Steven Pimlott, with Alan Bates and Frances de la Tour in
the title roles.
What makes Sonnabend's contribution particularly interesting
is that RSC design has long been associated with an aesthetic
of clean lines, timbered floors and white boxes. The sort of
dense, rich, surrealist atmosphere in which she specialises has
not recently been favoured in Stratford, and the first appearance
of her designs on the main stage is significant in a season in
which the RSC has been busily revivifying itself. "You never
know, it may or may not work," Sonnabend says, "but
it will certainly look different.
"Steven Pimlott started
by asking me for something Jacobean -- he was interested in the
idea of the parallel between the Romans and 17th-century Puritans.
But it's evolved away from that towards something much more mixed:
the Book of the Dead, the haute couture of John Galliano, leather
bikers' jackets for the Romans. We want to convey the idea that
in the Ancient World, Rome and Alexandria were very close yet
different, in the same way that Rome and Milan are now. Alexandria
was sophisticated and self-indulgent; Rome was harder, more businesslike.
"We've also tried to make
it all flow seamlessly. It's a long play, with a lot of short
scenes and minor characters, and you have to keep it moving fast."
The use of polycarbonate mirrors will facilitate this filmic
fluidity: a glimpse of a Polaroid snap of the set also shows
richly painted gauzes, a truncated translucent pillar ("that's
Rome"), a gilded scarab throne and a carpeted floor ("I
hope it doesn't remind people of the foyer of a Hilton").
It's certainly going to look different.
But then nothing about Sonnabend has ever been conventional.
As she herself admits, "I've always been an eccentric, out
on a limb. I really don't mind that at all. And in a funny way,
I feel they've all caught up with me now."
She was born in the former Rhodesia,
and the brilliant colours and vast sky of the African landscape
- the oldest on the planet, she points out - lie at the heart
of her vision. She first studied painting in Geneva, and settled
in London in 1954, when she had the good fortune to become a
pupil at the Slade art school during one of its golden eras.
Jackson Pollock may have been
the fashion at the time, but the influences on Sonnabend's style
were eclectic -- among them her principal teacher Robert Medley,
a survivor of the pre-war Auden-Britten-Isherwood connection,
Poussin, Borromini's architecture, de Chirico, the movies, and
"Peter Brook coming to the Slade to talk to us about producing
Hamlet, and saying 'all you really need is a chandelier' ".
The result is a very fine painter of mannerist, expressionist
canvases, full of lush, disturbing and ghostly imagery, as well
as an acute and sympathetic portraitist - her picture of Stephen
Hawking is one of the gems of the National Portrait Gallery's
But she is probably best known for her stage work, particularly
her ballet design. For more than 20 years, she had a close professional
relationship with the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, collaborating
on some of his strongest one-act works: "Danses concertantes,"
"Requiem," "My Brother and My Sisters" among
"Kenneth was a genius -
I have no doubt about that," she says. "He used other
designers for his epic three-act pieces: he liked me for the
more abstract and the more psychological things."
In personality, he was complex
and sometimes uncommunicative. "You couldn't push him too
hard. He wouldn't give you a detailed brief -- his choices were
all instinctive. I'd lay loads of drawings out on the floor and
put the one I preferred upside down, so it would stand out and
he could think that he had selected it. He never explained himself
much, but I always knew when he was pleased."
MacMillan died in 1992, but their
work together continues. After "Antony and Cleopatra,"
Sonnabend moves on to a new English National Ballet production
of MacMillan's "Rite of Spring," originally designed
by Sidney Nolan, and the Royal Ballet's revival of "Rituals."
But her old compulsion just "to strive on and on and on"
-- in true, manic stage-designer fashion -- has eased off. "Now
I feel I have to stop occasionally. But once I get going I still
find it utterly absorbing and exciting." |||
The Elctronic Telegraph
Tuesday, 22 June 1999