Food For ….. Thought?????

It was once referred to by critic Haskel Frankel as “one of the funniest, most sensual scenes ever put on film without removing one stitch of clothing.”;  the famous – or infamous depending on your point of view – “eating scene” from Tom Jones is a classic of improvisation.  Featuring Albert Finney, a lobster, a joint of beef, several oysters and the ribald reactions of the Irish-Anglo actress Joyce Redman it still raises a laugh and the occasional eyebrow today.

In an interview in 2000 Finney recounted the filming: “Joyce and I had done theatre together.  And we just played it for fun. It was filmed early in the morning, and it took hours. They kept bringing more food — trying us out on different dishes. They’d say things like, ‘Bring more oysters. She’s very good on oysters.’ ” He added: “We weren’t sure the audience would get it at all. It seems they did.”

The diminutive actress died earlier today at her home in Kent – she was 93 and had last appeared on stage at the National Theatre in 1997 with Judi Dench in Amy’s Way.  Her last film appearance was in 2001 as the elderly Queen Victoria in Victoria and Albert

She was primarily know for her stage work particularly at the National Theatre during its founding years under Laurence Olivier.   She was an actress of remarkable range – from Shakespeare (holding her own in the iconic Othello with Olivier and Maggie Smith  ) – to the Restoration and on to modern works – her Juno Boyle in Juno and the Paycock was acknowledge as one of the landmark performances in those early seasons at the National.

I saw her on stage during a heady week in Toronto when the National Theatre brought us a season of three plays and a company that included Olivier, Geraldine McEwan, Edward Hardwicke, Robert Lang, Anthony Nicholls, Madge Ryan, Graham Crowden and John Stride.  The three plays highlighted the versatility of Olivier’s company at the time.  McEwan, Lang and Olivier in a savage Dance of Death – Strinburg’s discetion of a marriage; the whole company in fine farcical form in Faydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear (to this day one of the greatest examples of French farce I have ever seen); and finally in Congreve’s Love for Love.

It was in the later that Miss Redman shone the brightest as a money-grubbing high born lady of limited means.  It was also the occasion for one of the finest “dry-ups” I have every seen on stage.  She and Olivier (as the screamingly foppish Mr Tattle) were exchanging barbs when things came to a stand-still.  There was an audible prompt from stage left – nothing – a slightly louder prompt – still nothing.  Finally in that husky voice – and not quite out of character – she flicked her fan and barked “I can’t hear you!”.  The line came, she tapped her chin with the fan and flicking it open rasped “Ah yes!” and unflustered continued the scene.  We all knew what had happened but somehow it didn’t break of the mood – in fact if anything it played off it.  In that moment there was not doubt that we were watching consummate artists plying their craft.

 May 12 – 1551: National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas, is founded in Lima, Peru.

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