All entries for July 2013
July 19, 2013
On July 17th, Adrian Lester received an Honorary Degree at Warwick and Tony Howard delivered the oration…
Adrian Lester is one of Britain’s finest actors.
He was born in Birmingham, his parents were from Jamaica, and when he was fourteen he joined the Birmingham Youth Theatre. This was founded by two local teachers determined to give young people from every part of the community experience of drama and the arts. Adrian went on to train at RADA and graduated in 1989.
Immediately, he was spotted by Britain’s leading theatres – in Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry – and in 1990 he was already in the West End, in August Wilson’s Fences.
Then in 1991 he was back in Coventry, in fact in this very building, in a role that established him as a unique stage artist.
_As You Like It _was a mould-breaking Cheek by Jowl production, with an all-male cast. It joyfully reinvented Shakespeare’s games with gender and illusion – and Adrian played a tall shy Rosalind playing a boy playing a girl.
Later the director Declan Donnellan admitted the all-male concept required a quite extraordinary Rosalind: they would have dropped the experiment ‘had we not found Adrian Lester’.
He won the _Time Out _Best Actor Award.
He won it again the next year, this time as a confidence trickster in Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare. Adrian made him open and generous, charming and sincere: his own qualities as an actor meant that you would have given him your money too.
And in fact Adrian became a welcome fixture in the whole nation’s living rooms from 2004 t0 2012 when he became the con-man star of the BBC TV hit series Hustle.
Meanwhile he excelled with more American scripts from Stephen Sondheim’s Company _to _Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Hollywood gave him the lead in Primary Colors, the film inspired by the Clinton presidential campaigns – more hustling, but more sincerity too: because politicians ‘aren’t actually insincere,’ Adrian said: ‘They just believe everything they say at that moment.’
In Kenneth Branagh’s film of Love’s Labour’s Lost, set in the 1930s, the cast were challenged to sing, dance, act, and speak blank verse beautifully. Adrian could do it all. And, in fact, every few years he has returned to Shakespeare – with a series of extraordinary performances that have redefined great roles.
Peter Brook welcomed him into his multicultural Paris company in 2001. Brook’s group is dedicated to the rejection of dead traditions and social elitism, searching for nuances and truth. Talking about Adrian, Brook said: ‘He is the one actor in England who was natural for the work we do. At last you have an actor so at ease with this complex language that you feel he is inventing it. When we decided to do Hamlet, Adrian was the natural person.’
The National Theatre’s Henry V wasn’t timeless. It was in modern dress and opened in the middle of the Iraq war. Adrian made Henry a 21st century politician, manipulative and threatening – but charismatic and unexpectedly vulnerable too. Afterwards the director Nicholas Hytner admitted: ‘A really creative, great, actor like Adrian will always bring more to the rehearsal room than the director can bring to the actor.’
And a great actor will also reach out from the rehearsal room.
Back into the world.
We remember, he began with Birmingham Youth Theatre. In 2010, Adrian returned to the Midlands with his wife Lolita Chakrabarti to work as acting mentors with two Coventry schools. It became an inspirational documentary series for BBC TV: When Romeo Met Juliet.
And this was characteristic.
Adrian is a patron of Eastside Educational Trust, a charity with a mission to engage and teach children through participation in the arts and direct contact with artists.
He is a patron of the Reidy Youth Foundation.
He is on the Governing Council of RADA.
He encourages aspiring actors and film-makers, and only a few weeks ago he spoke at Buckingham Palace on the need for cultural access as a gateway to self- expression.
In 2012 Adrian’s concerns came together when he appeared in Lolita Chakrabarti’s fine play Red Velvet.
He played Ira Aldridge, a great African-American actor who escaped racism and slavery at home by playing Shakespeare across all Europe in the nineteenth century. He was a ‘great’ actor – but often a forgotten one.
Now Aldridge is a familiar name again, a model for those facing prejudice or deprivation but aspiring to the heights. This year Adrian won the Critic’s Circle award for this performance, and he received an OBE for services to acting.
In 1991 Adrian came to this Arts Centre and astonished us in As You Like It. Today, with gratitude – and still astonished – we welcome him back.
Mr. Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present to you for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa, Adrian Lester.