Tag Archives: Michael Pennington

In My Own Footsteps

In My Own Footsteps (A Memoir)

★★★★★

Michael Pennington

In my own Footsteps

In My Own Footsteps (A Memoir)

by Michael Pennington

This book is published on 24th June 2021

★★★★★

 

“we are invited to immerse ourselves in an intimate and vivid account of his varied experiences”

 

In My Own Footsteps is veteran actor Michael Pennington’s latest book, and fans of his work will enjoy this hefty yet entertaining read. It’s an autobiography, and, like all good actor autobiographies, is both gossipy and insightful. Pennington has been a significant participant in, and witness to, some of the best theatre and television drama in the last fifty years, so this record will be of great interest to historians as well.

Historical seriousness aside, Pennington’s title refers to that well known fact of an actor’s life—that you often begin with one part, or one play, and find yourself circling back to it several times during the course of your career. Pennington’s big break was the part of Troilus while still a student at Cambridge. It got him into the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964, and after paying his dues as various spear carriers, and learning a lot of craft from observing the greats sharing the stage with him, Pennington returned to Troilus and Cressida again in the 1970s. Pennington is characteristically modest and funny about this, but making your mark in Troilus and Cressida—one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays to bring off successfully—is no mean feat.

In My Own Foosteps treats the reader to chapters that are organized not by date but by theme. Most of these themes are directly relevant to the theatre (or television), but sometimes not. The book begins with cricket, and family. In Pennington’s world the two are always connected, and it’s a great jumping off point for an autobiography that the actor himself describes as “a patched up story of an unfinished life, not told in strict sequence, but depending on a series of adventitious cues”. The chapter on cricket is followed, for example, not by his early years at the RSC, as one might expect, but a jump forward in time to the 1970s and the Royal Court Theatre in its counter culture phase. Pennington took part in the beginnings of the Theatre Upstairs, playing American characters in Michael Smith’s off-Broadway play Captain Jack’s Revenge.

Pennington’s writing style includes an acute eye for the details of an actor’s craft that many theatre writers miss. His descriptions simultaneously illuminate and demystify it in memorable ways. Much of In My Own Footsteps is devoted to accounts of his own experience of acting, but just as fascinating are the details of watching the craft of Paul Scofield, Peggy Ashcroft and Alan Howard, to name just a few. And not just on the stage, but while waiting in the wings to go on, or relaxing in the green room. Since Pennington’s own career spans a golden age of acting at the RSC in both Stratford and London, as well as television drama, many readers may find these accounts the most interesting. But it would be a mistake not to linger on the chapters that describe his time at Cambridge, where he crafted his own actor training course despite the best efforts of his college to teach him about English literature, and on those chapters describing his work after his years at the RSC. Pennington also has a knack for encountering figures of historical importance at significant times in their lives. His account of working with Romanian actor Ion Caramitru (later Minister of Culture in Romania after the fall of Ceausescu) and the part Hamlet played in ending that regime is a wonderful story that illustrates yet again how putting on great theatre can be a revolutionary act.

In My Own Footsteps is not Pennington’s first book, and this autobiography is not an exhaustive account of his career. He does not, for example, write about his time as actor manager of the English Shakespeare Company (which he founded in 1986 with director Michael Bogdanov) but that is the subject of another book by the author, so readers should not feel cheated. Instead, we are invited to immerse ourselves in an intimate and vivid account of his varied experiences of acting both on stage and television during the latter part of the twentieth century, and in the company of many of this period’s most celebrated artists. Warmly recommended.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

 

Michael Pennington

 

In My Own Footsteps (A Memoir)

by Michael Pennington is published by Michael Pennington Books. Available 24th June 2021 at £20 from all good booksellers

ISBN: 978-1-5272-9077-8

 

Read Dominica’s show reviews here:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit Hq | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Tempest

The Tempest

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

The Tempest

The Tempest

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 13th March 2020

★★★★

 

“a thoughtful presentation, enhanced by the intimacy of the space, and the skilled performances”

 

Can The Tempest—a play full of echoes of Shakespeare’s imminent retirement from a rich and successful theatrical life—be played in a small theatre, and on a pocket handkerchief sized stage? It turns out that it can. It can, that is, if you have Michael Pennington for your Prospero, supported by a cast of talented actors speaking with understanding of a text that contains some of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines. And it should, if you have a director (Tom Littler) who knows how to put on big plays in small spaces.

You might be forgiven for being sceptical. This Tempest demands work from the audience, beginning with a search to find the venue among all the clothing establishments in Jermyn Street, long the haunt of London’s haute monde. But when you eventually discover the modest entrance, near Waterstones, and descend into the performance space, you will be charmed. The stage is literally tucked into a corner, and designers Neil Irish and Anett Black make the most of it by creating a wall of curving shelves that contain all the flotsam and jetsam of Prospero’s past life as Duke of Milan. Add to that a couple of curtains to create additional spaces, and you can conjure up an enchanted isle quite effectively. Black and Irish were inspired by the experiences and art of Gauguin in Tahiti in the design—hence a lovely sketch of distant vistas on one of the curtains, and a medley of different cultural influences in the costume designs as well. Ariel’s costume and make up stands out in this respect. The costumes are all cleverly made from bits of cloth that could have been washed up from the shipwreck that brought Prospero and his daughter Miranda to the island. Add to that William Reynolds’ lighting design, haunting music and sound by Max Pappenheim (always essential in The Tempest), and you see an unexpectedly rich canvas on which the production has been created. But this is not easily apparent. You have to take the time—to look, and to listen—to all the island’s voices.

Watch for several innovations. The opening scene of the storm at sea that brings Prospero’s enemies to his shore is cut—instead it is Prospero who speaks the lines while holding a ship tossing and turning in his hands. It’s an effective way of emphasizing the fact that Prospero is a magician who has conjured up the storm. When Miranda enters, the audience is as ready as she is, to hear the story of how father and daughter arrived on the island. There is some judicious doubling. Tam Williams plays both Caliban and Ferdinand—and it works because Williams plays Caliban with a white canvas hood over his head. This device makes Caliban an oddly sympathetic character right from the start, and Williams’ skilled performance means that it takes a while to realize that one actor is playing both roles. Peter Bramhill doubles as Sebastian, Ferdinand’s uncle, with the comic role of Trinculo. Richard Derrington doubles as Prospero’s usurping brother, Antonio, with the drunken butler Stephano. It is a treat to see Lynn Farleigh take on the role of Gonzalo, and she brings a rare clarity and power to his lines.

Whitney Kehinde, as Ariel, is a wonderful sprite with just the right amount of enthusiasm for her work, coupled with fear that Prospero will not honour his promise and release her when her tasks are done. Kehinde is a genuine triple threat and a talent to watch. In fact, the only major weakness in this production is the lack of chemistry between Ferdinand and Miranda, despite the best efforts of Tam Williams (without a hood) and Kirsty Bushell (Miranda). And it is the greatest pleasure to watch Michael Pennington, as Prospero, literally hold the whole production in the palm of his hand. He manages to bring off both the power and vulnerability of the role in ways that allow us to maintain sympathy for the character, while questioning Prospero’s more morally dubious actions.

For clarity of insight into Shakespeare’s last great play, take a chance on the Jermyn Street Theatre’s production. It’s a thoughtful presentation, enhanced by the intimacy of the space, and the skilled performances.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Robert Workman

 

 

The Tempest

 Jermyn Street Theatre until 4th April

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain | ★★★ | December 2019
Beckett Triple Bill | ★★★★★ | January 2020
The Dog Walker | ★★ | February 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews