(Stubbs’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/7.)

Orpheus Descending


In 1989 I saw Vanessa Redgrave in Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending, directed by Peter Hall. I vaguely knew Vanessa as mother to Natasha and Joely. But I had never seen her act live. The boy – Jean-Marc Barr – was the reason I went; he had been in the film The Big Blue. I was smitten. Now I can't remember him at all.

Vanessa's character, Lady, had to have an Italian accent. Accents are not her forte (I had accent classes at Rada and was hot at spotting good or bad accents). This one was a mixture of Italian, Welsh and Pakistani. But as I sat there, I became totally caught up in her performance. At the end, she had been utterly broken. She sat on stage with one leg out – like a broken doll – diminished and defeated. That could have looked like a rehearsal idea but it was devastating. At the curtain call it felt inappropriate to clap.


(The following clip is from the TV movie of ‘Orpheus Descending’ starring Redgrave.)


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