This is Roger Allam… or rather ‘Douglas Richardson’… with a lemon. This came about as a result of my somewhat daft idea to create a ‘Lemons and Landmarks’ ‘thing’ (which has now been named a ‘project’ in various quarters which makes it sound altogether more professional).
I went to see Uncle Vanya for the second time on Saturday (an account of the first time can be found here and I will get around to writing a review of the brilliant play soon, I promise). The day started off amusingly when I found myself in the theatre café standing in line behind the man himself… for about 15 minutes. My desperate attempts to pretend that I didn’t find being squashed up beside him and hearing him order a beverage in any way stimulating resorted in me instigating a brief conversation with him about the ‘Britishness’ of our current scenario (queuing for tea). I managed to make him laugh a few times which was quite the reward for my few moments of bravery- his laugh, like his voice, is a marvel.
I was more than a tad embarrassed on his behalf (and on behalf of humanity in general, I think) when the man in front of us informed Mr Allam of how he was sure he recognised him from somewhere, prompting a response that he ‘might have seen him on tele’. In many ways, I think, ‘vague recognition’ is probably worse than fannish exclamations of ‘oh my god, it’s you’ because you’re neither letting the person get on with their day-to-day life in peace nor giving them the moment of pride that they’ve been recognised for a job well done. Still, he took it in good humour and I didn’t pass comment though I felt like shouting ‘you ought to recognise him! He’s practically a god!’ Ahem.
Then there was the play- which will be written about later but was entirely magnificent- and the hovering about outside the theatre, at which point my friend fled, leaving me to bumble along on my own. ‘Excuse me… could I borrow you for a second?’ was probably not the finest opening line known to man, and earned a startled look and an enquiry. Generally I am capable of being articulate, but I am naturally rather shy and without moral support I have a tendency to a) talk to my shoes, b) suffer from foot-in-mouth disease and c) apologise at least once per sentence. All of these factors were at play but he took pity on me and listened with patience and several guffaws (hopefully ‘with’ and not ‘at’ me but I’d take either).
There was some ‘personal stuffs’ as I tried to give him a measure of my appreciation (along with a book of Russian slang- probably best not to ask about that one…) and then there was the lemon, or ‘I know you’re not technically a landmark, but would you mind holding this?’ Of course, my bag picked this moment to become a TARDIS and, though camera could be located, lemon was nowhere to be seen. Leaning over my shoulder Allam commented that I would have to supply the lemon because he’s not in the habit of carrying around with them and I quipped ‘what, you don’t have a citrus pocket?’ before adding a frustrated assurance that I did have the lemon and an apology for being a tit.
And now for photo time. I was shaking really badly- my hands are unsteady at the best of times but I was practically vibrating. Thankfully there was another fan around who offered to take it for me and asked if I wanted to be in the picture: ‘no,’ I replied, ‘just the lemon. The lemon is paramount’ (subtle, Pudu, subtle). When the photo came to be taken, however, everything about him changed. He had been patient, relaxed and amused by my ineptitude but suddenly his expression, the set of his features, the way he held himself, everything shifted, eyes hardening, and he looked bored, derisive and slightly contemptuous at the frivolity of the situation. In short, he looked nothing like himself. I was shocked and a little scared to see the shift- terrified that I’d offended him- and then when I looked at the photo to check it and realised that I hadn’t taken a picture of him at all but rather of Douglas Richardson.
The shift back was equally dramatic as ‘Roger Allam’ returned with an anxious enquiry of whether the photo was ok. People have written a lot on Tumblr recently about how Benedict Cumberbatch is ‘one of the only actors’ who can change every aspect of their being to form a role but if this phenomenon is as rare as all that I really have to say that Allam should be recognised and sharing it. I had been started before by how he had changed in a blink from the utterly inconsolable Vanya at the end of the play to the smiling and bowing actor Roger Allam but though I’m always blown away by his performances, never had they struck me so starkly as this split second shift into the persona of another- and a character who generally exists as a voice without image- without a single word.
So, that’s Roger Allam, for you. And I feel I owe him another apology and an amendment- he is a landmark, and an exceedingly admirable example of both an utterly delightful human being and an entirely remarkable actor.