Theatre Thursdays: A Love Letter to Judi Dench

Judi DenchAbout a year ago, I was gifted a copy of With A Crack In Her Voice, which is the biography of Dame Judith Olivia “Judi” Dench. First of all, I absolutely recommend it. It’s lovely reading and clear that the author, John Miller, is rather fond of his subject. Also, it’s rather inexpensive to get your hands on. I can’t find a copy that costs more than twenty dollars, frankly.

Anyway, I cracked (sorry!) it open again today and was reminded how much I adore the woman, and so chose to share those feelings with you, gentle readers.

Pictured: me.

Pictured: me.

My affection for this woman, who has acted in at least fifteen films, more television, and much more theatre, is without bounds. To her credit, she has an Oscar, a Tony, seven Olivier Awards, two SAG awards, and more BAFTAs than I can imagine she knows what to do with. But, her long and storied career begins in the theatre, so I’ll show you that. (Also, it’s my favorite.)

In 1968, a 33-year-old Judi Dench receives rave reviews for her performance as Sally Bowles in the original London run of Cabaret (from which the title of her biography comes), showcasing what turned out to be impressive vocal talents. I say “turned out to be” because anecdotes suggest that she was so embarrassed to sing in public that she auditioned from the wings and got the part.

The late 70s has Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan as the title couple in a production of Macbeth which was widely lauded. Of her performance, critic Michael Billington wrote:

“If this isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is.”

After missing out on a leading role in Cats in 1981, in 1995 she plays Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. For this performance, she won the Laurence Olivier Award.

After this, her film career begins to take off in earnest. You may have seen her being incredible in The Chronicles of Riddick, Chocolat, Quantum of Solace, Pride & Prejudice, Nine, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among others.

judi_dench_chocolatIn any case, all told, she’s an objectively fabulous human being. She came to her magnificent acting career by way of training in set design, and it is always my greatest sadness to repeat the fact she has chosen to begin drawing down her career due to macular degeneration, crediting this with her choice to leave the role of M in the Bond films. In fact, for her most recent films, scripts must be read to her. She has, however, remarked that she has no intentions to retire yet.

Just to say it on more time, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Judi Dench, who has become the First Lady of British Theatre. Although, she does have some interesting feelings about being considered a national treasure. And while it makes me sad that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, she does have an unequivocal belief that she, and all women, “should have their say.” All evidence indicates that she is possessed of the all the grace and fire of her youth.

Judi-Dench-in-1968.-001I’ll leave you with this clip of the Dame signing autographs after a performance of Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade.

Theatre Thursdays: Once

once movie posterOnce is a new Broadway musical hit that won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical. I’m sure some of you knew that in the back of your minds. But what you probably didn’t know was that it was based on a movie, which I recently got the chance to watch.

Once is a story about a young(ish) Irish man who works in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and plays his guitar on the street for cash in his free time. He enjoys composing in the evenings when he’s not outside. It’s on his street corner where he meets a fairly young woman from Eastern Europe who also has a love for music. They strike up a friendship and the man becomes motivated to chase after his dreams: becoming a musician in London.

The reason I didn’t give any names here is because their names are never said in the movie. Even on the IMDB page they are listed as “guy” and “girl”. I think that adds a lot to the story now that I think about it. In a sense, it makes the story more relatable; anyone could be this guy and any girl could be that girl.

once screen shot Now this isn’t the type of musical with over the top theatrics. There’s no song and dance. No gigantic chorus. Just some guy and some girl with a guitar and a piano (that the girl plays in the music store because she can’t afford her own) playing some tunes. And they’re beautiful. I think I’m in an ever-shrinking minority when I say I love simpler music more than complicated things. I don’t like my music auto-tuned to the nines; I don’t need seventy-six trombones in my orchestra. And the songs in this movie were just that, simple music, with simple and pretty lyrics, and beautifully sung.

I didn’t know what this movie was about going in, and it honestly surprises me that it was turned into a stage production. It’s not a lot of story; the entire plot takes place over the course of a seemingly short week. But what the story lacks in over-the-top theatrics it makes up for in honest charm.

Hopefully I can see Once sometime soon when the cheap tickets come out of the woodwork. Until then, I’m just going to have to keep myself content with YouTube clips like the one below.