Richard II - Ralph Fiennes - Linus Roache - Oliver Ford Davies - Jonathan Kent
Paul Brown - Mark Henderson - Almeida Theatre
Gainsborough Film Studio - Alfred Hitchcock

On Tuesday 2 of May 2000, I decided I was going to see some Shakespeare, so I called the Almeida Theatre. They did not have any tickets left, only returns, and it meant I had to queue from 4pm. I decided I would very much like to spend the day there, and I decided to visit the Studios where Alfred Hitchcock started his film career. I was very excited but when I called the British Film Institute to find out details I was told the Studios was closed to the public. In any case, I decided to get a ticket. I arrived at 4.30pm, got a ticket and found out that this historical place was going to be turned into flats. I commented to someone at the Box Office that Hitchcock must be turning in his grave, and asked if it was possible to visit the Studios that produced dreams between 1919 and 1949. And they said, "only if you are going to buy a flat"! I said, "of course I would like to buy a flat, and visit my future flat"! So I was aloud to go inside, the man from the Box Office directed me to the door and I got inside the Studios where Hitchcock started his cinematography career.

For myself, who in my twenties had been directing films,(in 1968 Cosme Alves Neto, the Director of Cinemateca do Rio de Janeiro, sent my film Instantaneous 65 to the Brasilia Film Festival, but the military in power at that time in Brazil, seized my "masterpiece" and burned it), it was a tremendous experience to enter that door. As it opened my heart was in my mouth because there before me was HIM - the famous Ralph Fiennes - dressed in Escrimer clothes - duelling and rehearsing for the next play "Coriolanus". Yes, the great gorgeous Ralph Fiennes. I went up to supposedly buy the flat, following in the steps of Mr Hitchcock, the salesman new I wasn't really intending to buy, and did not show much interest in showing me around, so I went down the same steps of..... Ralph made eye contact with me and yes, he is BEAUTIFUL!

Then I took many photos of the building, the Blue Plaque, the logo of the Gainsborough Film Studios, the metal gate with the name of the Studios at the top. The building was first an Edwardian power station of the Metropolitan Railway, then in 1919 was transformed into a film studio by an American company. In 1949 it was closed down and became a whisky bottling plant and carpet warehouse. It is a great building by the Grand Union Canal: filthy, covered in dust, and you can feel the ghost of the past British film industry.

It was here, in 1938, that Hitchcock made one of the finest British films " The Lady Vanishes". He started in the Studios as a designer of titles. He was promoted to head of that department, beginning to work on scripts, art direction and even some second-unit direction. His first films as director were "The Pleasure Garden" 1925, " The Mount Eagle" 1926, shot in Germany. Then came " The Lodger" in 1926 (A Tale of the London Fog), that he considered " the first real Hitchcock picture", with his first cameo appearance.

As well as "Hitch", other directors such as Carol Reed and Robert Stevenson, as well as stars such as Noel Coward, James Mason, Yvonne Arnaud, Boris Karloff, worked at the Studios. For the 100th anniversary year of Hitchcock's birthday last year the British Film Institute mounted an exhibition there, opened the Studios to the public, and it was decided to give new life to the Studios.

The Almeida Theatre’s Shakespeare season, held at the old Gainsborough Film Studios, started with Richard II. This was followed by Coriolanus. The season ran for approximately five months (before the building is converted to flats). The whole site is very primitive, with outside toilets! The interior was like a hangar, now with first and second levels of seats for the public.

The designer Paul Brown has created a new stage area, constructing a dramatic back wall with windows, balcony, entrances with a gradually widening fissure, through which the actors enter and exit as a symbol of the divided nation of the time. The stage was a greensward with real grass, and some people during the interval were touching it, amazed to find it was real grass. The scene-changes took place in front of the audience, during the interval, as there was no curtain. The green grass - " the green grass of home" - represent medieval England.

It began with noblemen - dressed in black - on the open stage. Richard II emerged through the fissure carried on a white throne. His costume was white and gold, wearing a crown. His leaving the throne and descending the steps during the first Act symbolises the beginning of his descent from power, as he never returns to the throne. The play could be about today's thirst for power; a comedy-drama which made me laugh, the scene of the throwing of the gloves, the scene of the Duchess and son with the newly crowned King, was one of broad comedy and political intrigue - one of the highlights of the play.

Edward III left only one son, Richard II. He became ruler in 1389, aged 22. A young popular King, Richard II was the first King to insist he was called " Your Majesty". He had a very inflated ego and idea of kingship and was possibly gay?

He sent his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, a very powerful lord, to exile. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was the father of Henry Bolingbroke and ruled England as a Regent when Richard was still a boy. John of Gaunt gave us his deathbed speech - his requiem - he foretold of the coming of a bloody war for power. LAND AND BLOODY WAR go together - as relevant now and then! Richard seizes John of Gaunt's estate to finance the war in Ireland, so Bolingbroke comes back, unites the rebels, deposes Richard and becomes King Henry IV. Richard died at Pomfret Castle. Shakespeare's Richard II, was staged for the first time in 1595, part of an entire cycle of historical plays, he shaped the heritage of the Tudor dynasty.

Jonathan Kent's direction was beautiful, intelligent and atmospheric. He made Shakespeare modern and accessible. Stage design was by Paul Brown, using all the heroic and dramatic possibility of the place; sepulchral lighting with majestic effects was by Mark Henderson. Ralph Fiennes memorably played the decline and fall of Richard II. David Burke wonderfully played John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster and uncle to Richard). Oliver Ford Davies played Edmund, (Duke of York, uncle to Richard), and Linus Roache played the cousin, who turns power and become Henry IV, brilliantly.

The last scene shows Ralph Fiennes (with his perfect physique) lying down, dying on the stage. "The End of the Affair" is near and "Sunshine" is coming for his future mother-in-law. I feel Ralph will be "The Perfect Husband" for my beloved daughter, he would be perfect for the father of my grand-children, and best of all, he doesn't have to get confused with names because her name is - guest what - FRANCESCA.

Diana Rigg, Harold Pinter, Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Kevin Spacey and many others support the Almeida Theatre Company. Many stars, on 12 April, gathered at the Gainsborough Film Studios to celebrate the production of Richard II. Amongst them were Glenn Close, Cate Blanchett, Donald Sutherland, Paul Newman, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Christopher Hampton. Hermes hosted the Gala performance, on 4 May, and a candlelit dinner for guests Mick Jagger, Lord Saatchi, Lord Bragg, Nicky Haslam, Vivien Duffield.

It was all very Royal - Royal hand, Royal uncle, Royal blood, Royal cousin, and I had in front of me a REAL ROYAL COUSIN, Patrick Lichfield, the photographer and cousin to the Queen. I couldn't believe I was rubbing shoulders with a real Royal!

It was a very English "white" occasion, very English public school: aristocratic, upper class, intellectual people. Apart from some black actors on stage, I was the only one with some melanin, at least on that day.

This was one of the most fantastic and delightful days of my life.

Verinha Ottoni


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