Once again the West End has been beaten to the kind of tribute it could pay to one of its own by Broadway: after the death of Natasha Richardson was announced late on Wednesday in New York, Broadway theatres dimmed their lights for a minute last night to honour her. Maybe that’s appropriate — in the last fifteen years, she’d been seen more on Broadway stages than London ones, and New York was her home - but at the same time wouldn’t it be lovely if this kind of symbolic recognition of the passing of the actress could have been acknowledged so promptly in the city where she was born?
The same thing happened when Pinter died, too, as I reported here at the time, with the West End only mustering a partial response four days after Broadway did.
It’s clear that, whereas the Broadway League has a quick response mechanism for dealing with such events, SOLT are lagging behind in co-ordinating a similar gesture.
And even if it’s a sentimental one, it’s also deeply symbolic: as The Guardian reports today, “The rare tribute to an Englishwoman in New York… reflected not just the affection and respect in which she was held, but the international stature of the Redgrave-Richardson theatrical dynasty.”
Tributes have, of course, been pouring in from around the world; including one, on ITV’s News at Ten last night, from Natasha’s uncle Corin Redgrave, who said, “I’ve been very, very sad all day and all night. She was adorable, Natasha, she really was, besides being, as we know, a marvellous actress. She was just adorable. We shall miss her terribly.”
While Natasha’s mother Vanessa Redgrave, aunt Lynn Redgrave and sister Joely Richardson were variously pictured at the hospital in New York City where she died, Corin has been in London - and with good reason. He’s in the midst of a ten performance run of a play at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, Trumbo; and I was already scheduled to see it last night when the news came through yesterday of Natasha’s passing.
I rang the press agent for the show earlier in the day to check that the performance was still going ahead; I shouldn’t have doubted it. When Rachel Kempson - mother of Vanessa, Lynn and Corin - died in 2003, Vanessa was appearing at the time in a Broadway run of a production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, and she carried on performing in the play, only missing one weekend’s worth of shows that immediately followed her death. (Kempson had died at the Millbrook home of her granddaughter Natasha and husband Liam Neeson)
That, of course, is in true theatrical spirit; a friend tells me he went to see Aspects of Love in the West End the very night of the day that Sarah Brightman’s father had committed suicide - and she went on. According to an online report I have found, “Sarah insisted on going on tonight. We all react to personal tragedies in different ways. Sarah is a total professional, very dedicated to her job,” theatre company manager Jools Gardner told the Daily Mail.
But if the show must go on, in the immediate instance, the more British way of paying tribute is to allow a decent time to pass and then do so more formally. Yesterday was the first anniversary of Paul Scofield’s death, and it was finally marked with two events, one private, and one public. An invitation-only mass was held at Westminster Abbey’s St Margaret’s Church in the morning - and then a free public tribute was beautifully staged by Gregory Doran at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre in the afternoon.
I only went to the latter, and it was a gorgeous event, heartfelt, sincere and affectionate, with generous tributes paid to this great, but always intensely private, talent by those who knew and worked with him, from the two great Peters (Hall and Brook, who were sat in front of me yesterday), to fellow actors like Claire Bloom, Anna Calder-Marshall, John Hurt, Diana Rigg, Donald Sinden and Michael Pennington.