1 December 2009
Roger Rees and I met in 1976, at Stratford-upon-Avon, working for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Trevor Nunn's productions of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. As Benvolio and Romeo, we played best friends: as Malcolm and Macbeth, sworn enemies. The same season, we were both in Winter's Tale, Roger playing the Young Shepherd with a humorous innocence that I've never forgotten. In the musical version of Comedy of Errors, Roger was again very funny and totally winning. He acted, danced and sang expertly, at a time when most British actors could do one, might attempt two but rarely all three.
The next year I produced a small-scale tour for the RSC, taking Twelfth Night and Chekov's Three Sisters to theatre-less towns up and down the UK. Roger and I had a ball as Andrew Aguecheek and Toby Belch. For that vagabond troupe, he also devised Is There Honey Still for Tea?, an anthology from drama, poetry and odd corners of literature, in praise of England and the English, their strengths and their foibles. Roger was born in Wales.
After 18 such fruitful months at the RSC, why haven't we acted together since? What happened was Nicholas Nickleby, which made Roger a star on both sides of the Atlantic, followed by his decision to stay put in New York, where he has thrived ever since, writing and acting on Broadway. There he played in Sean Mathias's hit Indiscretions.
Like all his admirers, I treasure Roger for the original wit, the passion and commonsense which inform his life and his artistry. I couldn't be happier that he has chosen this production to make his overdue return to the West End stage. With us will be Ronald Pickup, indispensible as Lucky (lucky audience) and Matthew Kelly for the first time as Pozzo. Ronnie is one of my oldest friends: we met as teenagers up north, dreaming about a life in the theatre. Matthew and I are new to each other but not for long. We start full rehearsals as soon as it's 2010. I can't wait.