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Spotlight on Simon Russell Beale: Michael Grandage Season

Simon Russell BealeSimon Russell Beale stars in Privates on Parade, a 1977 farce by English playwright Peter Nichols at the Noel Coward Theatre from 1st December 2012 to 2nd March 2013.

Beale plays the cross-dressing Captain Dennis whose performances of Marlene Dietrich, Vera Lynn and Carmen Miranda form the centrepiece of Peter Nichols’ award-winning comedy set against the backdrop of the Malaysian campaign at the end of the Second World War.

Beale was born on 12th January, 1961 and is an English actor and music historian. He has been described by The Independent newspaper as “the greatest stage actor of his generation.”

Beale is the son of Lieutenant-General Sir Peter Beale, and Julia Winter and was born in Malaya, where his father served as a physician. Beale’s early performances were at the age of eight, when he became a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral School, having been awarded a choral scholarship to attend there.

Beale’s Shakespearian stage career was perhaps inspired at his junior school about which he says: “… when my headmaster asked me to read out the “dogs of war” speech. I remember the light pounding through the windows of the tiny library and getting this little thrill about it. That’s where it all started.”

He first performed on stage at the age of fourteen, playing Desdemona in Othello at Clifton College’s Redgrave Theatre, where he also performed in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a play in which he would later perform at the National Theatre. Following Clifton, he went to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and gained a first in English. Graduating from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1983.

Beale first came to prominence in the late 1980s with a series of renowned performances, in such plays as The Man of Mode and Restoration at the Royal Shakespeare Company. During the 1990s he again showed his excellence with moving performances as Konstantin in Chekhov’s The Seagull, Oswald in Ghosts, Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfi and Edgar in King Lear. While at the RSC he first worked with Sam Mendes who directed him as Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and the title role in Richard III and as a superb Ariel in The Tempest.

Since 1995 Beale has been a regular at the National Theatre where he has performed in Volpone, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Othello, Money, Humble Boy, London Assurance, Candide and Collaborators. This summer Beale will play the lead role in Timon of Athens which will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on 1st November 2012 as part of National Theatre Live.

Beale has also performed in film and on television including Mark Stibbs in A Very Peculiar Practice, Napoleon in Blackadder: Back and Forth, Sir Edward in An Ideal Husband, Winston Churchill in Dunkirk, Home Secretary in Spooks, King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and The Prince of Wales in The Young Visiters. On Radio he played George Smiley in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of John Le Carré novels. In 2008 he made his début as a television presenter, presenting the BBC Four series Sacred Music with Harry Christophers and the UK based choir and period instrument orchestra, The Sixteen. In 1997 Beale portrayed the role of Kenneth Widmerpool in a television adaptation of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, for which he gained the Best Actor award at the British Academy Television Awards.

Away from The National Theatre, Beale’s theatre credits include The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Old Vic, Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre, and King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Palace Theatre. On Broadway Beale has performed in Jumpers at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre. In March 2011 he made his debut with The Royal Ballet in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Later in the year he played the part of London taxi driver Jimmy MacNeill in the Atlantic Theater’s Bluebird.

Beale is President of the Anthony Powell Society, and patron of the English Touring Theatre, the South London Theatre and the London Symphony Chorus.

It is fair to say that the self-confessed workaholic Beale has played nearly every Shakespeare role, although he could have started sooner when Adrian Noble auditioned him for the title role in Henry VI, but then gave the part to an unknown actor called Ralph Fiennes, about which Beale says “Yes of course, I was very hurt, but Ralph was absolutely magnificent.

Of his sexuality and with some humour, Beale is quoted as saying; “If I ever got a choice between a film and a play, the play was always more demanding. The first film offer I got was to play a gay, 35-year-old, Oxbridge graduate, white Anglo-Saxon – or I could do Richard III. Well there’s no choice, although I probably played Richard III as a gay, 35-year-old Oxbridge graduate….”

Of Shakespeare he says “Shakespeare is my greatest love outside people. I think he’s the absolute centre of my professional and intellectual life, and that’s a very emotional position to have in somebody’s life.”

By his own admission Beale is an avid luncher. Due to being on stage in the evenings and not wishing to eat afterwards, lunch is the best option. He says; “Lunch is an important meal and if I have a Friday off I almost always have a meal out with friends.

Other things that Beale likes are walking in the rain, visiting Avebury in Wiltshire where his brother and father live, reading the broadsheets on a Sunday morning “while I have a pot of coffee and a bowl of muesli“. And of course “Sundays are about doing absolutely nothing – if I’m not in a show.”

I hope you have enjoyed reading about this fine actor!

We could not ask for anyone better to open the Michael Grandage Season than Simon Russell Beale, in Privates on Parade. I am sure that it will be magnificent!

By Neil Cheesman

Twitter @LondonTheatre1

Simon Russell Beale awards and honours include:
1998 – BAFTA Award for Best Television Actor – A Dance to the Music of Time
2000 – Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical – Candide
2003 – CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours
2003 – Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor – Uncle Vanya
2010 – Honorary Bencher at Middle Temple
2010 – Honorary Doctorate from the Open University
2011 – Freedom of the City of London for services to drama

Monday 9th July, 2012


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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