I first discovered this play after rescuing a vinyl record from an overflowing skip situated behind a (ex-polytechnic) University library. This skip contained hundreds of books, tapes, records and photographic slides from the 1960’s and 1970’s.
This edition of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was a live recording of a staged production by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) from 1977. The cast included Sir Ian Mckellen as Alexander and Patrick Stewart as the Doctor. ‘Ok’, I thought. ‘A play – it could be ok. Let’s give it a go…’
Lo and behold it was a play that featured a full orchestra as suggested by the tagline on the vinyl sleeve – ‘A play for Actors and Orchestra by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn.’ The orchestra was a fantastic bonus. Through going to see the production at the National Theatre, I learnt that it wasn’t just an orchestra that sat on the sidelines and ocassionally spoke up for dramatic effect, it was a play for Actors and Orchestra – as if the two were married. You know – each part would be ok by themselves, but they functioned far better when they were together. The two parts were intimately nestling together on stage forming one unit. At this production, both Actors and Orchestra worked together very very very well. Neither part tried to steal the limelight – they understood that this would just curdle the milk.
Have you ever heard an orchestra live? No speaker in the world can electronically transmit how lovely an orchestra sounds when it is in front of you. The first time I had this pleasure was through acidentally stumbling on one rehearsing for a show in the middle of central park in New York in 2005. I emerged from around a corner to see the orchestra convened on a raised white stage. The sun was shining through the leaves on the trees, playing with and dappling the musicians. I thought I’d walked onto a film set. It was the same thing with this Orchestra – when they played they managed to make you believe that anything is possible. If you want it to happen – then you just gotta write it into the script.
In relation to the live recording – I’ve even got Patrick Stewarts signature on the 1977 vinyl sleeve. I went down to see him in London in a production of Macbeth at the Gielgud Theatre and took the vinyl along. Some other people that were waiting by the Stage Door with me were looking over and glancing down at my vinyl. They talked among themselves and said ‘Well he only signs the program, he won’t sign anything but the program….’
So with this in mind – I didn’t want to offend him, I thought that maybe it would be nice for him to have something to lean on while signing the program. That’s alright isn’t it? It wasn’t like I was asking him to sign anything else was I?
Stewart moved round the group and eventually came to me. I held out the program with the vinyl underneath and passed them over to him. He moved the program and said ‘My – look what we have here!’ I haven’t seen one of these for years – they’re very rare you know, so you take care of this one. I only have 2 of these myself you know!’ and signed his name and then the program! I was estatic. Suddenly I turned into an embarrassed little teenage girl and lost the ability to speak. I squeeked ‘Thank you’ and ran off grinning.
I have also been to see Sir Patrick Stewart as Didi and Sir Ian McKellen as Gogo in Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in May 2009. Before going down to London for this event I sent a letter to the two Sirs, care of the theatre, explaining that I had this record – an original from 1977, and that Stewart had already signed it. Would Mckellen care to sign it too? I suggested that I could leave it at the Stage Door on the day of the performance, and could collect it at the end of the day? I didn’t hear anything back from the Haymarket, but did go to the Stage Door after the performance. Stewart came out and signed everones programmes. As it was a matinee, McKellen remained inside the theatre to rest between shows.
I forgot about the letter that I wrote to the theatre until a few weeks later I received an envelope in which the name and address had been written in my own handwriting. I thought I was going a little crazy – why was I sending letters to myself? I opened it and discovered a signed photo of Stewart and that he had also signed the piece of paper that I’d sent with the letter and the self-addressed envelope. I’d included everything but a pen – well I can’t imagine that Stewart would want to write with one of my cheap Bic pens. He wears a lived-in baseball cap when he comes out of the Stage Door, but I just imagine that he would have a pen of quality and substance, and drink Earl Grey – hot.
Another reason of my fondness for Every Good Boy Deserves Favour lies in that advert that was part of the Government Drink Drive campaign over the Christmas period in 2009. In this Oscar deserving production, there is a bartender standing under a spooky light. He takes you through the story of a man who got drunk and then went for a drive, and the terrible terrible consequences of that action. The actor goes through what seems like a million emotions in two seconds. The performance is phenomonenal and absolutely amazing. The actor who plays the bartender – Adrian Schiller, inherits Sir Ian McKellen’s role as Alexander. Schiller is good enough to take on a role that Sir Ian Mckellen has graced – and I’d say that Schiller’s performance matches up to Mckellen’s too.
This run of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour finished at the National Theatre on the 17th February 2010. I went to see it on the 6th February, and it was an absolute joy to behold. You could tell that absolutely everybody involved in the production put in everything they had. A standing ovation.