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Associated articles/interviews:

Evening Standard, Friday, 12 March, 1993, Romantic on a crowded stage
Surrey Comet, 23 April 1993, Colin has a chatsky, by David Brine
Times (Richmond), 30 April 1993,  Polarizing audiences and critics, by Jenny Scott


Evening Standard, Friday, 12 March, 1993

Romantic on a crowded stage

It will be a full house on stage as well as in the audience at the Almeida on Tuesday when the tiny Islington theatre premieres an unknown Russian classic with a 24-strong cast waltzing round the enclosed space to present the full array of 19th century Moscow society.

At the centre will be actor Colin Firth, in a leading role which has been described as the Hamlet of Russian dramatic literature.
The play is titled Chatsky, the name of the eponymous hero who returns from his travels to reclaim his girl but finds that life in his home community has gone off at an alarming tangent, and it arrives in a new verse translation by Anthony Burgess.

Jemma Redgrave and Dinsdale Landen co-star and the director is Jonathan Kent, back on his home patch where he scored two outright hits with The Rules of the Game and Medea.

Firth, tall, tousled and willowy, has put aside his transatlantic commuting and turned down all film approaches to return to the stage for the first time since he played an admired Aston in Pinter's The Caretaker in the West End two years ago.

It is 10 years since he was pulled out of of drama school on the strength of a student Hamlet to march straight on to Shaftesbury Avenue in Another Country. Since then he has led Richard Eyre's Tumbledown on TV and films like A Month in the Country and Forman's Valmont, in which he met his grlfriend and mother of his young son, American actress Meg Tilly.

He was in Canada when the call came for Chatsky. "I read the first five pages and it just got under my skin. I hadn't read language like that outside Shakespeare. It's rhyming couplets but so strong and vigorous you hardly notice."

He has come back to the theatre from making a film called "The Hour of the Pig". Set in the Middle Ages, it concerns a pig hauled into court on a murder charge and Firth is the defending lawyer. "The pig is accused of killing a child. It was a half-wild boar, dark and bristly with huge teeth, and when I met it for the first time the idea did not seem so silly."
 


Surrey Comet, 23 April 1993

Colin has a chatsky
by David Brine

Despite the fact that controversy has seemed to follow Colin Firth throughout his acting career he claims that he doesn't go looking for deliberately provocative roles. 

"When I see a script it interests me if it isn't simple any script which ends up sorted out makes for boring drama," he maintains. 

Firth is shortly to appear at Richmond Theatre in Chatsky, amusingly subtitled The Importance Of Being Stupid, translated by Anthony Burgess from a romantic verse comedy by Alexander Griboyedov. 
Firth believes that the Richmond audience will see the play at its best as it has already had a run in the West End, a reversal of normal theatre practice. 
"The play has had a mixed reception - some people think it's the best thing they've ever seen and some think it's awful. But its unique language and examination of issues is extremely invigorating," Firth comments. 

He is probably best known for his television roles in Tumbledown, where he played a soldier recovering from his injuries during the Falklands conflict, and Hostages, in which he took the role of John McCarthy. 
Both works were the subject of intense discussion in the media but Firth has no regrets about his part in either project. 
"I didn't speak to John McCarthy because he had distanced himself from the project by that time but it was very successful in the USA. Tom Sutherland, one of the American hostages held with McCarthy and Waite, joined the publicity for the show because he thought it was so realistic," he said. 
Firth is unsurprised that controversy over the Falklands is still around, even 11 years after the conflict ended. 
"There has never been a war where horrible things didn't happen - I am always amazed by people's naivity. There is this belief that British soldiers could not commit atrocities, but army training turns you into a person who enjoys hurting others." 

Firth is full of praise for Kenneth Branagh, with whom he worked in the 1986 film, A Month In The Country. Firth describes him as enthusiastic, tenacious, very funny and ultimately entertaining. 
"All his achievements have been on his own merits," Firth said. "He is the only person taking risks in this country and it is extraordinary that he does it. "We shouldn't criticise," he warns.


 
Times [Richmond local paper],  30 April 1993 

Polarizing audiences and critics 
by Jenny Scott 

"Playing to very mixed reception from audience and critics. That's not a euphemism for bad" said Colin Firth, who is playing the leading role in the Russian play by   Griboyedov, Chatsky, which arrives at Richmond Theatre next week. 

"Polarised! - It's quite extraordinary". Even in the sixth week at the Almeida, Colin Firth seemed a little shaken by the reactions. "I don't think I've ever been in anything that's been praised and damned like this. 
"The funny thing is that you know, when you do a piece like this, that may be going to happen, but when it actually does...." he was momentarily lost for words. 
"It's stupid really. When you get some really positive, good response, it's encouraging". 

Wasn't it much better to get such positive reactions, good and bad? 

"Yes, it is better. The play's got an edge to it. It's only comfortable things that are universally accepted and only dreadful things that are universally damned. 
"I think it's shaping up. The whole thing is very complex and it has a large cast. In Russia they would take months to rehearse it. They've staged it there many, many times, in fact it's one of their most famous plays, more than Chekhov, and it's the most quoted from in Russian literature. It's like Hamlet - a big classic which again is quite exciting because nobody here knows it at all. 
"I'd never heard of it before. It's the only thing he's written. He died at an early age - 34. He was murdered while he was in some ambassadorial post in Persia by some Islamic fundamentalists. 
"What we're doing is a classic as a new play. The Anthony Burgess part of it is very much a new play. If it's one part Griboyedov, it's certainly one part Burgess. I think he's done a dazzling translation - one of the most exciting modern language I've ever come across in my life. 
"You think that and then Nicholas de Jongh describes it as doggerel because it's all in rhyming couplets, and you think: God, how can he? Some friends of mine saw it and were absolutely bowled over by the sound of the language - drunk on it. Billington said the same: 'Language headlong on a drunken spree'. It's exciting stuff, full of energy". 

It was becoming increasingly obvious that Colin Firth was enjoying his part enormously. 
"I'll tell you something else that's funny. Normally one does the tour first. The provinces get the run-in and trying-out and Londoners get the benefit of the more mature form. This time it's happening the other way round which perhaps is good. 
Richmond will be getting the more mature form. "I haven't done as much stage as film work. This is my sixth play ever. I did The Caretaker two years ago with (and by) Harold Pinter. That was all I did that year for six months". 

He is probably known to millions of cinemagoers for films like Another Country, A Month in  the Country, Valmont, Femme Fatale and most recently for Hour of the Pig and on television for Lost Empires, Tumbledown and Hostages. 

His very first stage part was in Bennett's Another Country - straight into the West End after training in what he calls "an unconventional drama school". 
"I didn't even complete the course" he admits. "It was an amazing success for me to get that job, but it wasn't me that had the success in the role". Modesty? "No, no, no, I mean it quite literally. I was only the third cast. I didn't start the play off. I didn't play the part I played in the film. I did the Rupert Everett part on stage. He and Kenneth Branagh were the first cast. 

"Both film and theatre have their problems and appeal in different ways. There's no question you're working with better texts in theatre - the scripts are better. There never is a question of 'what a great film script, we'd like to do that as well'. Once a film is done, that's it, unless someone wants to do a re-make. You just don't have great classic film scripts around that anyone can do. 
Having said that, most film scripts are crap, the last thing I did had a wonderful script, a once in a lifetime, The Hour of the Pig - it's the best since Tumbledown - a masterpiece which read brilliantly. 

"I've no plans whatsoever, but I hope at the end of the six week tour there will be something. When I'm not acting? I have a son and I like to spend as much time with him as possible". 

Given his growing reputation as an actor, Colin Firth's periods of not acting are almost bound to become strictly limited. 
 


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