Since moving to its South Bank home in London ten years ago this year, the National Theatre has provided audiences with a number ofoften adventurous, sometimes brilliant productions. This spring it brings four plays to Scotland for a month. Stephanie Billen meets Alan Bates, the star of Peter Shaffer’s new sell-out epic, Yonadab, and Yvonne Bryceland, who plays the title role in Mrs Warren’s Profession, discusses the theatre ofcommitment with Lucy Ash.

Alan Bates and

Leigh Lawson as Yonadab and Amon in Shatter’s play.


2'l‘lie list 7 20 Mar


If Laurence Olivier is the king of theatre. Alan Bates must be its Everyman. Unaffected player of manly parts on stage and screen from Gabriel Oak to Ursula‘s lover in Ken Russell‘s Women in Love, Bates claims he acts ‘instinctively‘.

Serene in duffel coat and jeans. he has an enviable talent for

empathising with human tragedy yet

having no truck with it in his own life.

His latest role is Yonadab. a

character forced to retell his own tragedy. Ask him though about the perils ofdetachment in real life. and he will talk about the healthy

' processes of growing away from your

parents. ‘Everyone goes through it. You start looking at them. As you

move out into your own life. it is like ? looking back at a picture. Then I think there comes a stage when you

become emotionally involved again,

' when you‘ve found your own

identity. place. maturity. . .‘ He

5 concedes that for some people. ‘a

particular kind ofintelligence‘ makes them observers. ‘and I don‘t think they are particularly happy.‘

psychotic mischief

Yonadab is an earthy plain-speaker referred to as ‘subtle‘

in the Bible‘s Book of Samuel. At . the outset he is an onlooker at the

turbulent court of King David. the

setting of Peter Shaffer‘s new play.

Yet as voyeur. he is as destructive as Salieri was in Shaffer‘s Amadeus. ‘Psychotically mischievous‘. as Bates describes him. Yonadab becomes part ofthe tragedy when he falls for his own game. Having engineered the incestuous rape of Tamar and later fuelled a second brother‘s disastrous lust for her. he becomes as caught up as they are in the search for a transcendent

experience to salvage ‘belief‘.

Alan Bates talks about Yonadab as if the character could manipulate even the playwright. albeit self-destructiver again. ‘He is conceived by the author to be someone outside the action. but he keeps going back into it. What he is really doing, is telling the story of his own life. and he keeps disappearing

' into it and reliving the torment

because in the end that‘s what it became. He starts as an empty shell.

is almost able to be a believer. and then it is ruined for him. and at the end he is even emptier.‘

Professionally and personally,

7 Bates is able to stand on the edge

without fear of falling. He looks constructively at his own performances. ‘I think I work pretty instinctively rather than technically,

so I never feel apologetic to myself

i about what I have done.‘ Such reservations as there are, are usually ; a question of degree. ‘1‘” wish I

hadn‘t gone over the top. or underplayed something. I‘ll wish I had made what I wanted, what I naturally felt, clearer.‘

He sounds and looks characteristically emphatic at this point, richly vocal, swarthy and

bullish. He describes, with pleasure, the experience ofworking with the National Theatre‘s Peter Hall Yonadab. Was he a frightening director? ‘No, that is one of his great virtues. that he is not. There is no point in being afraid of anyone when you are all trying to work on something. I can‘t hear those kind of directors. ringmasters who think they have been sent from heaven.

They haven‘t.‘

naked terror

Bates evidently finds fear, regret. all those qualities he acts so well. unproductive. He defines his own natural objectivity ‘after every phase of life‘ as. unlike Yonadab. ‘not empty, but observing life.‘ Similarly he seems unphased by the potentialy paranoiac prospect of turning on the television every week and seeing yourselfin a film, five. ten or twenty years younger. ‘I don‘t feel anything except an interest. It is like looking at someone else to some degree . . . Ofcourse everyone is in a photograph. Everyone has that to look back at.‘

Surprisingly though, Alan Bates‘ career began with a kind ofnaked terror about what he is currently

doing every night and touring Britain

to do more of. He was acting from the age ofeleven. ‘I was drawn to it, and also appalled by the exposure of it.‘ Part ofthat fear. he reveals. is

simply that ‘you want to get it right‘

a craft-conscious phrase which comes up often with Bates. The

feeling doesn‘t leave you. but says

Bates, ‘when you get more used to it,

the whole thing is that you become someone else . . . so that you are at once exposed. but also hiding.‘ My inadept shift here to real

exposure (how many times had he been asked about wrestling in the nude with Oliver Reed?) leaves Bates unruffled. ‘No, that's not a

stupid question at all. because I think

symbolically one is naked up there, so taking your clothes off is hardly any different. although ofcourse it is an extra hurdle. I‘ve only done it on film where one is rather well treated and,‘ he smiles. ‘hopefully well lit. It

is possibly more traumatic on stage,

luxurious hair

but I have never been called upon to do that. Well, I‘ve done it about four times, that‘s all.‘

Bates is blasé about screen nudity to the point oftalking about holiday beaches in comparison. Of Ken Russell‘s controversial wrestling scene in Women in Love. he is justifiably proud. ‘It was the first time it had been done in a serious film so obviously we didn‘t walk calmly and casually into it. but we were doing it for a purpose in a serious piece ofwork by a great writer. . . And it was a great scene, it came off. It was what Lawrence wrote I think, hope.‘

At 52, Alan Bates has a host of parts to his credit; on stage, Cliffin the original production of Look Back in Anger, then Barley, Hamlet. . .; on film, leading performances in