There is something about the stage that brings out the best in people. Performers who have achieved global fame on the big screen are humbled before an audience consisting of their old mates. In the climax of this year’s 59th Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Dame Maggie Smith faltered in the spotlight, her eyes glistening with tears, a lump in her throat, as she said that her heart actually ached for the theatre and she wanted more than anything to return to it. ‘But there is no Mrs Lear!’ she cried, as directors and playwrights across the room conferred in a collective aim to find a role for Maggie.
Earlier in the evening, Clarke Peters’ soft and slow rendition of ‘There’s No Business like Show Business’ was spine-tingling. Dame Edna Everage was at the top of her game, sympathising with the Comedy Award winner David Walliams over parents who could not even spell his surname correctly. The host for the evening, Damian Lewis (below), came on stage with a copy of Friday’s Evening Standard and a superbly reworked version of ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’. He stage-managed the astonishing roll call of talent and national institutions — Boris Johnson, Barbara Windsor, Sir David Attenborough, Helen Mirren, Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear — with wit and warmth. The lure of theatre never felt stronger.
Do you have any particular method for learning Shakespearean lines?
I’m the man who looks like a lunatic walking around the parks of London talking to himself. I have to be on the move, I can’t learn them sitting at a desk. I march myself around outside,drilling the lines into my brain. There’s no secret: it’s repetition, repetition, repetition, like practising your forehand in tennis.