Masterclass is a great series of workshops and talks by British theatre practitioners held at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London. Free to 17-30 year olds, but open to all, the events generally attract drama students or those with a general interest in theatre, film and performance. I’ve attended a few of the actors' talks previously - Matthew Macfadyen, Douglas Hodge and Brian Cox - and have always emerged inspired and energised by these performers’ generous insights into their work.
Yesterday’s Masterclass with Miriam Margolyes proved to be one of the best yet. Though confessing to nerves due to the absence of a script, the “loquacious” Margolyes effortlessly charmed and engaged the audience with her particular brand of cheekiness and erudition as she discussed how (in her words) “a short, fat Jewish girl with no neck has managed to sustain a career all these years.”
Radiating love of language and enthusiasm for (as well as fierce pragmatism about) the profession, Margolyes talked frankly and colourfully about her family background, her Cambridge years, her first theatre job (playing a West Indian woman!), the joys and challenges of radio work, the greatness of “senior” British actresses, dealing with pre-performance "terror" and being out of work, the “golden thread” that binds performer and audience, and some of her most recent roles, including Wicked and Endgame. (Of the former: “I can’t sing, so I just spoke loudly in time to the music.”) In passing she slagged off the Python boys and Max Stafford Clark (“a brilliant director - but not a very nice man”) and put two brave young actors through their paces on a reading of the "handbag" scene from The Importance of Being Earnest. (“When Jack tells Lady Bracknell he was ‘found’ it’s the most appalling thing she’s ever heard - like somebody just said ‘cunt’ or something.”) An entirely delightful and inspiring afternoon.