classics such as Zorba the Creek, A Kind of Loving, The Go-Between, Far from the Madding Crowd and A Day in the Life ofJoe Egg; on television most recently acclaimed in Alan Bennett‘sAn Englishman Abroad and Greene‘s Doctor Fischer ofGeneva. One of his favourite roles was Henchard in the BBC‘s The Mayor of Casterbridge series.
‘He is everything we ever experience. He goes through the stupidity ofyouth to enormous remorse. . . his wife. his mistress. his best friend, his daughter- he just makes ghastly errors in every direction and ends up with nothing.‘ Again, Bates embraces the scenario with relish. and sees its universality. ‘It is the human tragedy — when something is good you blow it.‘ But questions about his own mistakes prompt more comforting generalisations. ‘No. I haven‘t got it right at all! I think one pretends one has and tries to steer oneself back if. . . in the end ifyou think ofthem too heavily as mistakes. you don‘t get on.‘
Part of his success in the Mayor role was that he looked so indomitable. Today. still apparently in rude health and with hair more luxurious than ever. you would almost expect the leading British actor to describe his background as ‘son of the soil.‘ He was in fact born in Allestree. Derbyshire and if pushed would call himself lower-middle class in origin. But despite many class-conscious roles
from A Kind ofLoving to The (Jo-Between. Bates is vehement about ‘hating class‘. Whatever it is that makes Bates seem peculiarly British, it is not a respect for British social structures. His loyalty to British film-makers seems rather to be ‘natural‘.
‘I haven‘t not gone to America for any particularly noble reasons. It is more a question of being indigenously ofhere.‘ He tells a story about the director Fellini on location in New York for a film which had been set up for him to make. ‘lt was all in the final stages. and he was looking out ofhis hotel window onto Central Park and just shaking his head. Someone asked him what was wrong and he said: ‘I don‘t belong here. I can‘t make a film about these people — I don‘t know them.‘ For the most part I think people work best where they come from — to make that universal. rather than to go out and try to understand everything.‘
Instinctively an actor. Bates asked to conjure up other careers for himselfcomes up with ‘gardener‘ or ‘chef‘, occupations he ﬂirts with at home in Maida Vale with his wife and twin sons. Age. he says. is earning him more interesting parts. ‘Experience can only make something a bit richer I hope . . . I suppose it can make thingsjaded for some.‘ The self-analysis comes to an end. Alan Bates concludes before stepping back into the action. ‘On the whole I‘m fairly much of an optimist. I‘ve quite enjoyed it so far.‘
YVONNE BRYCELAND MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION
In her time South African actress. Yvonne Bryceland. has played ‘quite a collection of ladies‘. and this spring at the National Theatre is no exception. At the moment her days are spent rehearsing Joan Plowright‘s role of an ex-prostitutc turned shrewd manager of Victorian brothels. but at night she becomes a 1970s visionary in a remote corner of Afrikanerland. The gulf between Bernard Shaw‘s garrulous Mrs Warren and Athol Fugard‘s sensitive Miss Helen could hardly be wider but Bryceland. described by Edward Bond as ‘the greatest living actress‘. appears to welcome the challenge.
Plowright‘s performance of the prosperous businesswoman with her string ofbrothels from Brussels to Budapest has been described as a ‘splendidly forceful‘ parody of Thatcherite efficiency and I wonder whether Bryceland will play her primarily as a victim or as a manipulator ofthe system. ‘She must be seen both ways and I sympathise with her greatly.‘ Although the middle-aged Mrs Warren is no longer forced but activley chooses to pursue her unsavoury profession. Bryceland says she is motivated by much more than simple greed: ‘The deprivation she suffered in the early days still fills her with terror and a blind determination never to be in such a position again. She doesn‘t give up her pride and her sense of bitterness too easily and is deeply hurt by Vivie‘s rejection ofher— the play is really about the relationship between mother and daughter.‘
The cover ofthe National Theatre programme graphically demonstrates the polarised worlds of the two women — one half pictures a group ofsober looking Newnham (‘ollege bluestockings in high necked blouses. but below them a dishevelled nude reclines suggestively on a couch. In the course of the play Vivie Warren. one
mothers and daughters
a of Shaw‘s Modern Women. armed
with a (‘ambridge mathematics
. degree. discovers her mother‘s
source of income and finally
declares. ‘My work is not your work
and my way is not your way.‘ Despite the flashes of high comedy.
Bryceland feels the play is coloured
by ‘a terrible sense of loss‘. The
I. ‘mysterious. specialquality‘of female relationships seems to greatly
preoccupy this actress — one thinks of
her highly acclaimed performance as
Emilia in Schofield's Othello. Fugard‘s Road to Mecca has little in common with the last of Shaw‘s 'plays unpleasant‘. except that it also centres on the relationship between two very different women of different generations. Here however. the elderly Miss Helen is the innocent and Elsa. a young teacher from Cape Town. the disillusioned protagonist. although
their roles are constantly shifting.
'7’? 341'. o s.’ , ., Yvonne Bryceland as Mrs Warren. subtly highlighting their strange mutual dependence. The play was inspired by Helen Martins who lived in the isolated township ofNew Bethseda in Fugard‘s own Karoo district. She filled her garden with naive sculptures of beasts. wise men on camels and owls with bicycle lamp eyes. and covered her walls with sharp glass chips from bottles broken up in her coffee grinder. Scorned and feared by the locals. she eventually committed suicide. but her bizarre multicoloured ‘Mecca‘ is still standing. and Fugard hopes to make a film of the play there. Bryceland. who won the 1985 ()livier Award for Miss Helen. says she has received more letters from people about this production than any other. ‘I was surprised because it is the least political of Fugard‘s plays— it‘s about the mystery ofcreativity. and seems to have an enormous effect on the audience.‘
As far as her own creativity is concerned. Bryceland readily admits that Fugard is ‘the most valuable person‘ in her life. They first met in
r the 1950s when she was playing the
‘ lead role in an American play about
detectives and he had a last minute walk-on part. ‘I was terrified of him — he had this huge black beard and looked dreadfullyearnest . . .‘ Her voice trails off with a laugh. ‘In those days I was still very silly — politically unaware and preoccupied with babies.‘
Born in (‘ape 'l‘own. the daughter ofa railway foreman, Bryceland was married and a mother in her teens.
i She worked as a newspaper librarian
and spent evenings with amateur theatre groups. In 1967. after three years with the Cape Performing Arts Board. she met Fugard again and so began their long-standing alliance which has been compared to that of Beckett and Billie Whitelaw. ‘I consider myselfvery lucky.‘ she says. ‘Our relationship is built on trust and I know that I can‘t do anything phoney with him. Sometimes I dreaded the workshop sessions because he keeps on probing— making you suffer. but after that working with other directors can seem a bit ﬂat —you are disappointed that they don‘t see that potential in you.
Bryceland emerges as an extraordinarily resilient actress. whether she is playing a bigoted poor Afrikaner such as Hester in Hello and Goodbye. a downtrodden old coloured woman evicted from her shanty town in Boesman and Lena or a towering matriach ofa Celtic tribe in Brenton‘s anti-war controversy The Romans in Britain. As Hecuba. the Trojan queen who blinds herself on stage in Bond‘s play The woman she crowns her harrowing repertoire.
The role of the theatre. feels Bryceland. is ‘to bear witness‘ and she firmly rejects any allegations of gratuitous violence. To prove the point she tells me of a performance of Boesman and Lena in a black township in which a man leapt up from the audience waving a broken
bottle. furious at the repetition ofthe '
derogatory term ‘kaffir‘. "I‘hings calmed down and somehow we got through the play and afterwards he came backstage to say that he now understood why we kept using that terrible word.‘
5 confronting apartheid
In 1971 Bryceland‘s husband. Brian Astbury. founded the Space - the country‘s first racially integrated theatre in a converted (‘ape Town warehouse. I‘m a long time blacks viewed plays as a whites—only form of entertainment — I hope that we helped to change that.‘ The subsequent collaborations with Fugard like Statements after an arrest under the Immorality Act.directly confront the ugly dehumanising nature of apartheid.
At the end of the seventies Bryceland left to settle permanently in London. ‘l-ike Athol I do love the country but it made me feel terribly unhappy. It‘s very hard to constantly see the difference between the haves and have nots. I‘m not saying I have lost the guilt — it is a feeling White
1 South Africans must always live
with.‘ Bryceland still feelsthe theatre has a vital part to play in the country and like Fugard she feels that playwrights‘ boycotts area counterproductive form of self-censorship which isolate people still further from progressive thinking.
Yet an unfeigned humility accompanies Bryceland's crusading
: zeal: ‘An actor‘s job is not to teach anybody anything. but to learn. I‘m
not going on stage to show people a
5 character but toexamine something
; for myself— I‘m desperately seeking i Mrs Warren and I feel honoured if
someone is prepared to pay fora seat to go through this process with me.‘
The National Theatre are in Glasgow at the Theatre Royal with Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon from 10—15 Mar and Mrs Warren's Profession by Bernard Shaw from 17—22 Mar, and in Edinburgh at the Kings' Theatre with Yonadab by Peter Shatter from 24 - 29 Mar. See the next List for details. (The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov plays at His Majesty's, Aberdeen until 8 Mar).
'l'he list 7~- 3” Mait'3