The Curmudgeon

Hugh Leonard's Week.


To the Gate to see Frank McGuinness's play Gates of Gold, and it was more like a first night than just another Thursday.

For one thing, the dazzling Penelope Wilton was there. reducing me, as ever, to teenaged yammering. Also present was John Hurt, who did for Kathy - "My favourite Caligula!" - what Ms Wilton did for me, and at the end of a too-short evening we beheld what has been described as the Nefertiti profile of Pauline Flanagan.

We tottered away, utterly clobbered by the performances of Alan Howard and Richard Johnson.

Richard Johnson and Alan Howard

There was a story that after Micheal MacLiammoir was given an honorary doctorate, Hilton Edward's Cyrano-esque nose was so put out of joint by the flood of telephone callers asking to speak to "Doctor MacLiammoir" that he took to answering the phone with a "Nurse Edwards speaking!"

Well, a lesser actor than Richard Johnson could have been eclipsed in the same way, but he was stunning, and, like Alan Howard, he reminded us of what great acting was. Mr Howard contrived to bring off the uncanny feat of both maintaining his own persona and yet bringing MacLiammoir back to life. Under the faded remnants of artifice, behind every moue and feline smile, there was the terror of death, and he was Micheal incarnate.

An unforgettable evening, then; and since we were on a roll, we walked the hundred yards or so to have supper at Chapter One. It was better than excellent; in fact, if L'Ecrivain is our favourite restaurant, this elegant place is hot on its heels. The asparagus was to food what Alan Howard is to acting. Good grief, I even ate my spinach.

One can arrange, by the way, to have dinner here in two instalments, before the Gate and after, which, to use Kathy's vernacular, is neat. I had such a good time that if Pooh-bah had appeared on the stairs I would almost have smiled at him. Almost.

Hugh Leonard

The Irish Sunday Independent, 26.5.02.

reminding us of what great acting is

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