But the engine has got to be in good order. I mean, if you want a Rolls Royce performance you have to have a Rolls Royce engine, and that way you have to keep tuned up – not only the physical body which, you know, you can express grief with your back instead of facing out front and crying with tears splashing down your face and hoping the aud-… you know the audience can possibly be more moved by someone turning their back, sitting at a table and their shoulders going in such a way that you know it’s the depth of grief that they don’t want to face you with. And that is more appealing to their imagination as well. They just see the back but they, inside themselves, add to what they know is going on, so that they feel the huge grief. But, you know you can’t rely on it all the time.
I mean, I do remember going with Larry in New York to see Kenneth Haigh in something. Kenneth Haigh had acted the first Jimmy Porter. He was on in New York in something and he’d had notices about a cry or a something at the end of Act One. And when we went to see it there was no cry, it just finished off. And we went round to see him and we said well you know what happened, we’ve read about… that you know that cry of pain and outrage at the end of… ‘Oh’ he said, ‘I felt I couldn’t reach it and I didn’t want to give the audience a lie’. He’d been doing the studio, the Method. And Larry said, ‘You know, acting I’m afraid is a lie. You know, I don’t kill people on the stage. People get up afterwards and take a curtain call’. You know you are giving the audience a lie but you are making it real, and to say ‘oh I didn’t feel it last night’, and not do it for an audience, is not what an actor’s job is all about. I mean it’s… technique is also control – you know your own control. You have your little controller man watching what you do, making sure that if you are in a deeply emotional scene and crying buckets, the audience can still hear what you say, because that’s what they’ve paid for. I mean they’ve paid to hear Shakespeare’s words if you’re crying away as Juliet, not your snuffles. And you can do that in the bath, Juliet, and cry a lot and it’s all very real. But it’s not art.
I was an understudy in the first play, and then I was Mary Warren in The Crucible, and a land girl in the Nigel Dennis play… something else, I can’t remember. And then George said he was going to put me on as The Country Wife – my first leading part. And so we played that and it was a huge success at the Royal Court and it transferred to the West End. And it was there that he came along with Laurence Olivier to say they were going to do The Entertainer, again at the Palace, and Dorothy Tutin was leaving the company and playing Jean Rice, and would I be interested in taking it over. And that was… yes, that was fascinating because I’d also just been offered a contract with the Boulting Brothers, because playing opposite me in The Country Wife was Laurence Harvey, who was a very well known film star at the time. And they wanted to update The Country Wife to modern London and have him as the gay man about town – no not gay in that sense – [laughter] man about town and me as the country girl coming up to London. And George Devine said ‘well, if you do that you will be typecast the rest of your life if you make a success in the film as the Country Wife, and you have more important things to do’. So I did the play.
I got pregnant after I’d agreed with George to do a Beckett play, Happy Days, and it had to be postponed or put off ‘til next year, which we’d all agreed on. But then, the next year, I found myself pregnant again and everybody was sort of furious. And Beckett wrote to a friend sardonically saying, ‘Perhaps we should wait until Miss Plowright is past childbearing or the barren beyond engendering’. [laughter] And so somebody else got that role and I missed out on one of the best roles you could ever have, in Happy Days.
And then the Chekhov’s: Masha, Sonia. The Chekhov’s, always a favourite of mine. And I remember, you know, part of the Old Vic School training, whenever we were approaching Chekhov, we would have lectures on the history of you know what life was like just before the Revolution. It was necessary to know that in order to invoke that atmosphere of waiting that is in Chekhov, knowing something, that they’re all on a precipice, knowing something vital is going to happen and to change. So they are always wonderful parts to play because it’s the subtext as much as the actual text that is important and you need to have the history, knowledge of the history of the time, in order to understand the subtext.