The ForestMephistophilis

Alan in his own words


People Influenced by Alan on stage

Alan on his 'beginnings'.....

From an article 'Two Actors', in Plays and Players, September 1969.

" took me a long time to find out that was what I wanted to be. My family tried to discourage me at first, I think because most of them knew what a rotten business it could turn out to be.............I've always admired the Compton attitude and the traditional kind of professionalism of an actress like Fay. I'm the fifth generation in the theatre on her side, and she always says I am like her father who was an underrated but I believe very good actor called Edward Compton."

Quote from 'The Player King'' The South Bank Show, LWT. 28.1.78.

"When I was about seventeen, at school I played Autolycus, and I asked some of my family to come and see it, and to tell me honestly whether they thought I stood a chance - and they said, 'well, you seem to be not too bad, so in that sense we can't disqualify you, but we strongly advise you against.' "

The Belgrade, Coventry.....

"I joined in 1958, when I was just 20; for nine months I was a general stage cleaner and dogsbody, then I got promoted to assisstant stage manager and at last I had a position of some kind..........I got my first real break a few months later when Clifford Williams came to Coventry to direct Major Barbara. I was on the book, and as the actor playing Lomax was away.........Williams asked me to read in the lines. Then he suggested I should learn the part and rehearse the moves with the other actors, and finally he decided that I should be the one to play the part. After that I got off stage-management altogether..........All in all I was at Coventry for two and a half years, and in that time we played everything from Shakespeare to Reluctant Heroes."

On not going to drama school.......

"When I started acting at Coventry it was all extremely new to me, and I didn't have any arrangement with myself whereby I could judge what I was doing. I was just terribly glad to be playing anything and everything. But I think I learned as much there as I would have at school, and people who were at Coventry with me (like Frank Finlay and Richard Briers) reckoned I was doing all right without it. They said I'd be mad to go back to a school after the work I'd already been doing at Coventry, and I think I learnt a good deal by just watching them on the stage."

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After The Belgrade......Joining Olivier's first season at Chichester in 1962......

"It was a marvellous company.........I enjoyed the excitement of opening a new theatre, but...............I didn't work again for a while after that first season. Then I heard rumours that I might be asked back the next year but I couldn't be sure and as I needed the money I went into the musical at the Mermaid, Virtue in Danger. It was pretty disastrous for me because I couldn't really sing and they had to keep cutting me out of the numbers. In the end I was only allowed to sing when there were lots of other people on the stage!"

On joining the RSC in 1966.......

"At first I found the company life difficult to adapt to, and I was very nervous; when we started to rehearse Twelfth Night I'd never met Diana Rigg (who was playing Viola) and somehow I'm very bad about introducing myself so for a while we just never spoke except in the play. Once I got to know the company better that kind of tension disappeared, but there are still areas of self-protection in any group of actors which is penetrate.

silent 'Night'

On playing roles

The Guardian. 9.11.68.

"People come up to you and ask how you're going to play a part........But it's an impossible question. It's like asking someone how they are going to live their life for the next five years. The idea of a smooth, consistent characterisation is rubbish. Stage characters should be allowed as much inconsistency and variation as there is in life......."

San Francisco Chronicle, 6.3.69

How does an actor research a particular part?.........."Some actors read as much as they can about a play. I try to find out what a line actually means. Sometimes an elaborate technical explanation makes no sense. Then two actors will try out the lines and suddenly everything is clear."

Chichester Observer, 5.7.90.

"I always like best the part I'm playing now. That makes me forget what I liked about other parts."

Oxford Mail, 30.3.70

On understudying and playing small roles at Stratford and......
"In a way I think it's a good thing. I think it might actually lead to an improvement in the quality of the acting. Whereas I would refuse to play a small part in a scene with other actors who I knew were no damned good I don't mind doing it for good actors who I know will do the same for me in another play......."

......... on films
"If only actors were more powerful they would never get themselves into the ludicrous position where they can be offered a million dollars to play a part they know they can't possibly be worth. Having been out of work for months on end myself I know how difficult it is to resist a tempting offer."

Jewish Echo, 2.7.76

On playing Henry V

"I enjoy doing Shakespeare a lot partly because it's so difficult to do. There have also been great changes in the ideas of how it should be played. Perhaps the biggest change of all, in the best way, is that the modern parallels in the historical plays are brought out, not over-emphasised, but allowed to emerge without cluttering it up or limiting it by overall conceptions. The plays are so enormous anyway that they touch on everything that was relevant then - and is still relevant now.

"Henry V has perhaps been usually considered in a limited light - just as a piece of jingoistic tub-thumping. I think that in the production that we have got together the play emerges as being very much more considerable than that. It is about many other aspects than just the problem of war, or nationalism. It is a play enormously about responsibilities - self-responsibility - and about human conflict, decision-making, doubt. It's also a play about people's word; whether men keep their word, the question of honour in the truest sense, rather than either in a phoney, devious, political or in a romantic expression.

"Henry V is about doubt, and overcoming doubt and whether by taking action you necessarily simplify - in fact things can become more complicated. The whole Shakespeare historical cycle of the development of Prince Hal into the king is in many ways the odessy of a young man having eventually to fulfil his role, to find himself and to marry the role to his actual being, by discovering what his actual being is."

[Do audiences manage to reach these layers of meaning?]

"There are many moments in Henry V which are filled with doubt and I think that audiences do see or sense the dilemmas which find their echoes today."

Alan Howard on Coriolanus - discussion with David Daniell during the European tour and printed in 'Coriolanus In Europe, David Daniell, Athlone Press, 1980.

Alan Howard on Soames Forsyte: BBC R4, 29.9.90.

"He's cold, arrogant and slightly cruel, but in the end I see him as a tragic figure."

The Independent, 28.11.90

Between The Lines / Alan Howard discusses a favourite passage.

A marriage laid bare

"I can only speak for myself, but I think I love you in my imperfect and slightly selfish way. I think, at times, you love me in your stormy, emotional way - in fact, I think we love each other in an imperfect, earthly way."

(Johann to Marianne, final scene, Scenes From A Marriage by Ingmar Bergman, translated by Alan Blair.)

"Bergman's play goes straight to the heart of modern marriage: it explores the sexual divide, the divergence between male and female expectations of love - it asks whether that love can endure. Before Johann and Marianne can reach the honesty of this final scene, they go through hell. We see a marriage laid bare: the evasions, the accusations, the power struggles, the guilt, the sexual torment - conversely, the humour, the intimacy, the affection and the need. I find it a devastating portrait - and this final reconciliation a very moving one. By the time it is made, husband and wife are divorced, but remain lovers. I find this speech sad, wry and wise - also hopeful. Johann recognises fallibility, the polarities of male and female need. It's a realistic, not a romantic view - they have battled their way to a love which may be imperfect, but which will endure."

Back to Scenes From A Marriage Review

The Independent, 1997

Hot Ticket

'alan howard on ...'
The Ideal Homer

"When people come in for a performance of Kings they have a look on their faces which says, 'Oh God, its going to be really heavy." But every time they leave wanting to read the entire tale. War Story, the first performance we did of Christopher Logue's adaptation of Homer's Iliad, was such a success, it was suggested that we do Kings, which covers the first two books. Christopher's interpretation honours the ancient traditions but makes it terribly contemporary. Like Paradise Lost, everyone's heard of The Iliad, but very few have actually read it. Unlike Paradise Lost, it comes from an oral tradition rather than a written one, so it's greatly enhanced by performance. I was smitten by the power of the language - it's beautiful, funny, frightening. But you almost need to hear it to be aware of that.

It's the story that always captures the audience's imagination. The book is quite tricky to read, but when you hear it spoken, it comes ringing across very clearly. The performance isn't really theatre as such - Christopher sits at a table and occasionally gets up, I sit on a bar stool and sometimes wander around. We don't attempt to act it - as the story progresses, the various characters and their relationships with each other all emerge and begin to people the stage. The strength of the story is what eventually led to Greek drama - and, for that matter, all drama. That's how theatre started.

The language is organised so that it's heightened but at the same time completely down-to-earth. This adaptation talks about people being lifted out of a sardine tin, which can take your breath away - you're in this other world and suddenly you could be in your kitchen. It preserves its original tradition, while still bringing it into this world, and that is something I think is terribly important."

'Kings' previews on Wednesday 2nd April and opens on Thursday 3rd April at the Tricycle Theatre


Back to Kings review page