Truly, Madly, Alan
by Jez Bond
I’m looking at a photo of Alan Rickman’s shoes taken during his first visit, back in 2012 when the Park Theatre was still under construction. Unlaced, well lived-in tennis sneakers that he exchanged for work boots to tour the site. Funny, the little things that sharpen a memory.
Alan entered the Park’s life thanks to one of our Ambassadors, Sean Mathias. It was at a play reading in the West End: Sean waved me over to where he was talking to Alan, and spoke enthusiastically about this wonderful new theatre in North London... which hadn’t yet put on a production.
That’s why we have Ambassadors. They’ve got the cred and contacts to do that kind of networking on our behalf. But I was a bit apprehensive. Alan had the reputation of being both fiercely private and somewhat shy, and it was hard to forget he was quite possibly the best screen villain ever. (Though he would have corrected me on that with his famous retort, “I don’t play villains. I play very interesting people.”)
I needn’t have worried. He listened intently, asked a few practical questions, and one sunny June day dropped by for that tour.
During the hour and a half he spent with us, he asked more questions and made several well-informed comments . My strongest memory is of taking him up to the roof where the steel workers were installing girders. They were thrilled to meet him, the more so because he chatted with them about their work. He was enjoying himself, but he also completely understood what the Park Theatre needed from him at that moment – his celebrity. It was he who suggested taking a photo of him sitting on a girder with the crew (he’d retrieved his shoes by then), and said to use it in any way that would help.
He continued to do whatever he could for us over the next four years. At our first fundraising gala, for instance, he and Celia Imrie (another of our wonderful Ambassadors) generously let themselves be auctioned off for a dinner at the Savoy. It netted us £10,000.
What really gladdened our hearts was that Alan and his wife Rima came to see plays here, particularly if there were younger actors he knew and had mentored. He made a practice of visiting the cast afterwards, giving honest advice and gentle support.
The last time we saw him was at Toast in September 2014. His friend John Wark was in the cast, and after the show we went around the corner to the Osteria Tufo, which Alan and Rima both loved. As always, he insisted on paying.
I spoke to him a few times after that, and he talked about the projects he was into. Same enthusiasm for the work, same sense of humour. Nothing about the cancer. Like most people, I had no idea he was ill.
I look back at the photo. Big sneakers to fill? He’d have laughed at that.
We’ll miss him.
Below: Alan at the Park Theatre’s first birthday gala,
with Harry Enfield and Jez Bond. (Photo: Mark Drouet)