Alan on the South American tour.

.... the British Council tour...played Mexico City, Caracas, Bogota, Montevideo, Quito, Lima, Rio, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo; then later, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Athens and Rome...... Alan Howard, who played Bassanio, recalled the exquisite playhouse in Quito which had been built as a miniature La Scala and where Bernhardt had once acted, finishing one performance under the patronage of a different President from the one who had been in office when she began it. But grand associations apart, the lighting was little more than naked bulbs hanging down from the ceiling. Howard was standing next to Richardson, who was a traditional, Irvingesque Shylock, at least to look at, with longish hair, bearded chin and nomadic robes made of yards of gaberdine material - an imposing, powerful presence, with a frightening-looking face. He was resting on the long staff he carried. Suddenly he swivelled round on the staff towards Howard.

"I think we've time," he said cryptically. "Follow me." He swirled off the stage, down the steps, shouting for his dresser, "John, get out the brilliantine." On arrival in his dressing room he pulled up his sleeves and into his cupped hands had the dresser pour lashings of the waiting brilliantine, which he began to apply liberally to Howard's hair. "It catches the light," he said.

For Richardson and Howard it was the continuation of a relationship which had begun in a television play by Terence Rattigan called Heart to Heart, about a Labour minister who bares his heart in a television encounter as Gilbert Harding had once done with John Freeman in his inquisitorial Face to Face. In Heart to Heart Howard had played the politician's Parliamentary private secretary (PPS), and having occasion to call on his superior at his home the two had been obliged to improvise together a few lines of dialogue. Howard had just been acting at Chichester. The first improvisation, purporting to be a conversation of the Labour minister with his PPS, ran:

Richardson: Ah, have you just come up from Chichester?

Howard: Yes, as a matter of fact I have.

Richardson: And how is Laurence? - awfully nice man.

Howard: He was well.

Richardson: Did you come by steam-roller?

The second improvisation, several days later:

Richardson: Have you been for a fitting?

Howard: Yes.

Richardson: Have you got your striped trousers?

Howard: Yes.

It was two years later before Howard and Richardson met again. Called to audition for Bassanio, Howard was setting out on to the darkened stage to deliver his piece when he heard a familiar voice call out from the back of the stalls, "Hello, Stripey, how are you?" From that day on Richardson always called him "Stripey." At the end of the tour the company took leave of one another at London airport - by this time all were exhausted and the goodbyes were emotional. "Ah, Stripey," Richardson said, coming up to Howard. "You've got great potential, your performances have grown and grown, but" - he paused here with considerable import - "keep your thumbs down!" It was advice Howard never forgot.

Taken from, Ralph Richardson, by Gary O'Connor, pages 247-249.


Playing Shakespeare/Merchant of Venice