Anna Massey remembered

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Anna Massey remembered

Post  eddie on Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:37 am

Anna Massey remembered by David Hare

She had warmth, wit and talent. But most of all, she embodied the quality of friendship, recalls the playwright

David Hare

The Observer, Sunday 11 December 2011


Anna Massey, right, with her mother, the actress Adrianne Allen. Photograph: Bob Haswell/Getty Images

Anna Massey was for a long time acknowledged and admired as the owner of the best fictional voice on BBC radio, and if you were lucky enough to meet her in person, then you would recognise that the voice was the woman: funny, warm, intelligent and lucid, with a sharp edge which very quietly but firmly kept you in line.

She and I were friends for 40 years, and if she hadn't died so soon, we intended to be friends for a great deal longer. In fact, when I think of friendship, I think of Anna: regular phone calls, very good jokes and steadfast loyalty.

She appeared in my first play, Slag. It had made a fair splash at Hampstead in 1970 when I was just 23, but the following year the Royal Court theatre had a gap in its programme and decided to revive my hip little comedy, only with a starrier cast. Anna seemed to me the height of glamour. At the age of 17 she'd made her West End debut in The Reluctant Debutante, and then become the go-to leading lady for HM Tennent. John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson had both acted with her. She was as familiar with TS Eliot as she was with Noël Coward. Anna's mother, Adrianne Allen, who had played Sybil in the original production of Private Lives, haunted the dressing rooms at the Royal Court, loudly declaring of my play to anyone who would listen, "It's just like Angela Brazil – only filthier."

Of course when I got to know Anna, I realised how much hurt her strange upbringing had caused her, not least because her father, Raymond Massey, had walked out when she was three. Because she'd been born into the higher showbusiness, she was immune to its charms, and never remotely susceptible to its dangers. The thing that bonded us immediately was our mutual love of gossip, which we both saw as evidence of proper human curiosity. How can you not be interested in talking about other people? But in a rehearsal room Anna was more nervous than any actor I ever met.

She fell upon our director, Max Stafford-Clark, because he was of a new generation, working for the first time in London, and she always said afterwards that he was the first person to give her acting structure. Max introduced her to the idea of exploration, and gave her some of the technique with which to do it. If you saw the scripts of her radio broadcasts, then the apparent fluency and ease which the listener so prized was achieved through the most exhausting preparation. I learnt quickly you couldn't take her out to dinner the night before. "I've got a radio tomorrow."

When, in 1985, I realised I could only direct King Lear in the Olivier theatre if I had some friends along – Roshan Seth, Anthony Hopkins, Bill Nighy and Suzanne Bertish were among the early recruits – then I never thought of anyone but Anna for the part of Goneril, although even by then, in spite of her brilliance in plays like Heartbreak House and The Seagull, she'd already half-decided that the theatre represented more anxiety than it was worth. And by the time she met her wonderful Russian husband, Uri Andres, a few years later… well, thereafter there was simply no question of going out and wasting an evening acting.

It's hard for me to accept that Anna is dead because I'm always going to be that young man going down the King's Road in a group of four with Lynn Redgrave and Barbara Ferris on what I always remember as warm, sunny days, making our way from Sloane Square to a carefree lunch at Alvaro's. I've never since known a time so charged with promise. And nor, I think, did she. When she was in a hospice earlier this year, my wife, Nicole, wrote her a letter in which she said one of the best things about meeting me was that it meant that she'd thereby met Anna. Anna, on her deathbed, told her son David she'd received quite a few nice letters. I bet she did.

At her funeral in July, a priest, from Smithfield, I think, dared to say to the overflowing mourners that he knew that many of us were not devout, but did we really believe that someone who had once been so full of life was really now nothing but a pile of dust? It was an outrageous and provocative question, especially about a woman he'd never met. But he knew he'd get away with it because he could tell from the way everyone spoke that day, and behaved, that nobody could believe she'd been extinguished.

eddie
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Re: Anna Massey remembered

Post  Constance on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:10 am

She was wonderful in so many productions. I love her performance in Hotel du Lac and the series of Trollope's Barchester Towers. Has anyone seen those? Or other performances?


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Re: Anna Massey remembered

Post  Constance on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:13 am

She's read quite a few recorded books, as the memoir above says. She read Jung Chang's Wild Swans, a wonderful book about three generations of women.

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