As we (im)-patiently await the next Facebook status update from the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, chronicling the devastating events of series 3, episode 4, it time to, yet again, turn our attention to what really sets British actors apart from their American counterparts. As we experienced, first hand, back in 2009 at the Theatre Royal in Bath as part of our interview with Penelope Keith for PBS’ Funny Ladies of British Comedy program.
As has been proven ever since, there isn’t a night somewhere in England that you won’t find a very familiar face from your favorite British comedy series performing in either one of the many strong regional theatre’s or on London’s West End stage. It’s not uncommon to see the likes of Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Patricia Routledge, Judi Dench or any of a number of other British comedy stars on stage. Though many will argue it’s the writing that sets British comedy apart, of which I will whole-heartedly agree, it’s also the incredible talents of the actors and actresses involved that have had years and years of formal training at places such as The Old Vic or the Royal Shakespeare Company. And, not only the London stage. In recent months, theater-goers in New York can see the likes of Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbey) in the final days of The Heiress with Jessica Chastain. And, remember, it was James Corden (Gavin & Stacey) who won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in an Play with his performance in One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway. Two recent examples from today’s headlines do nothing but reinforce my point.
Dame Judi Dench in Peter and Alice
As Time Goes By Star, Dame Judi Dench, with her 11 BAFTAs, 7 Laurence Olivier Awards, 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards, 2 Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award in tow, heads to the London West End stage beginning March 2013 through May 2013 for Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. When Alice Liddell Hargreaves met Peter Llewelyn Davies at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, the original Alice in Wonderland came face to face with the original Peter Pan. In John Logan’s remarkable new play, enchantment and reality collide as this brief encounter lays bare the lives of these two extraordinary characters. Dame Judi Dench plays Alice, and Ben Whishaw plays Peter in Logan’s first new play since Red, which went on to win six Tony Awards in 2010.
Rowan Atkinson in Quartermaine’s Terms
Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Thin Blue Line) is currently leading Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms at Wyndham’s Theatre now through April 2013. Set in the 1960s in an English language school for foreigners, the play is so quintessentially English. At the heart of the group is St. John Quartermaine (Atkinson), a kind, pleasant and agreeable, but utterly hopeless as a teacher. An almost permanent feature in the staff room, he’s always available to listen to the problems of his self-obsessed colleagues. But when a new Principal is appointed, Quartermaine’s future looks precarious. In the ‘pictures are worth a thousand words’ category, this looks like a must. Why is it all Rowan Atkinson has to do is sit still and I laugh? More pictures to convince you here.
Next time you find yourself looking for something to do most anywhere in England, take a moment, look up at the marquee of the nearest theatre and I’ll bet you’ll recognize the name in lights. What a great way to see a British comedy ‘friend’ and support regional theatre in the UK.