The Critical Eye, and the entire arts community mourns the recent passing of a truly talented actor: Richard Griffiths.
British-born Griffiths, with his Falstaff-like girth was hard to miss, in the dozens and dozens of films in which he played major roles. Sadly, as is often the case with brilliant actors, he is best known for roles which didn’t require the efforts nor the talents which he lavished on other roles.
Griffiths is probably best-known as the cruel Uncle Vernon, the non-magical relative who was charged with raising Harry Potter, when the young wizard’s parents were killed, until he was old enough to enroll at Hogwarts. Fans of independent film may remember him better as another odd uncle, the lecherous Uncle Monty, who allows the central pair of young actors in “Withnail & I,” to live in his country house, in return for perpetually unfulfilled promises of sexual contact with the non-relative actor.
Less famous, but with considerably more effort and talent, he played most of the famed clowns in Shakespeare’s canon of plays, including Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Sir John Falstaff, whom he so much resembled, with many companies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. He famously played England’s King Henry VIII in many plays, including Shakespeare’s play by the same name.
Both on the London stage and the Broadway stage, he played both Hector, the beloved professor in “The History Boys,” and Martin Dysart in the 2007 revival of Peter Shafer’s play “Equus,” which won Daniel Radcliffe his liberty from the image of Harry Potter. He played important roles in many major films, including “Gandhi,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” “Ragtime,” “Chariots of Fire” and “Gorky Park,” among many others. In 2011, he portrayed the King of England in the most recent release in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
Fans of British detective television mysteries will remember him best as Inspector Crabbe, the retired policeman who tried to focus his attention on inventing and improving the menus in his gourmet restaurant, but who kept getting pulled reluctantly back into investigations by the police force, in the series “Pie in the Sky.”
When he died last week, he had recently completed a run in London of Neil Simon’s play “The Sunshine Boys,” opposite Danny DeVito, and was scheduled to repeat the show in May, in Los Angeles.
He died of complications following open heart surgery in Coventry, England. He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Heather Griffiths. He was 65 years old.
Various obituaries for Griffiths include an official statement, released by Daniel Radcliffe, with whom he appeared in the Harry Potter films, as well as sharing the leading roles in “Equus.” Radcliffe said, “Any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever, just by his presence.” The statement goes on to say that the two actors shared Radcliffe’s first scene ever filmed, and his first appearance on the live stage. “Both times, I was feeling awkward and nervous,” the statement continues, “But, terrified as I was, his encouragement, tutelage, and humor made it a joy. I am proud to say I knew him.”
Despite his family name, which is of Welsh origin, Griffiths was born in Yorkshire, in northeastern England. His father was a steelworker, and his mother is listed as “a bagger,” which I believe refers to an employee of a grocery store. Both of his parents were totally deaf, and he would tell an interviewer from the BBC that both felt alienated and angry at the world, due to their condition. He ran away from home repeatedly in his youth.
When he was 8 years old, Griffiths was much smaller and thinner than other children his age, so he was subjected to experiments on his glands, which caused him to add an additional 60 percent to his overall weight, in less than a year, and which he believed were responsible for his great girth for the rest of his life. Observers claimed he ate reasonably, and he was famously light on his feet and dexterous in motion, yet he was unable to lose significant amounts of weight.
Although he was willing to talk with interviewers about his great size, normally in his roles, it wasn’t mentioned, and didn’t really play a role in most of his parts. He did, occasionally, state his belief that his physical appearance had cost him achievements which he believed he had earned, and while he had won a great many major awards, including the Tony, the Drama Desk Award, the Golden Globe and many more, the only honor he was given by the British Government was Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Officer is the second to lowest of five levels of that award, which entitles those on the top two levels to call themselves “Sir” or “Dame,” and which have been won by many actors who have achieved significantly less than he has.
One interviewer managed to get him to say that he believed that every actor over age 55 ought to be issued a 3-pound, cold salmon, with which he would be entitled to slap the face of a good looking, young, successful upstart actor, while announcing, “That’s for being so lucky, you …”
Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the British National Theatre, issued a statement that Griffiths had the very unusual ability to be simultaneously very funny, and yet to make the audience realize that he was desperately tragic and sad, inside. Hytner called Griffiths “One of the very finest actors in the world, today.”
Three of Griffiths’ four siblings died at birth or very shortly after. His father was a physically powerful man, who used to challenge anyone in the crowd at a neighborhood pub to a fist fight, as a way to make additional money. The family lived below the poverty line and both of his parents were prone to hit each other, and to hit him.
The senior Griffiths forbade his son to apply to drama school, which he considered “poofery,” so his son dropped out of school at age 15, and took a job as a porter. His boss encouraged him to seek further education, so he applied to the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama, and was accepted. At the school, his successful portrayal of “Bottom” led to his casting with professional companies, and the beginning of his successful career.
Griffiths took the theater and its artistry very seriously, and was famed for bursts of anger at audience members whose cellphones went off during performances. On two occasions, he asked audience members whose phones rang more than once to leave the theater.
The theatrical world, including its brassy cousin, the film industry, is much the worse for his departure.
The 1891 Fredonia Opera House is making further use of their capacity to show programming in high definition.
Now, visual arts exhibitions can be shown from the great museums around the world, making it possible to see paintings and other art works in exquisite detail, along with extensive research into the exhibit, the host museum, and related information.
The first of these will be shown on April 11 at 7:30 p.m., and will feature an exhibit of paintings by Edouard Manet, which are being shown at England’s Royal Academy of Arts. So far, additional exhibits, one from Norway on the work of Edvard Munch, and one from London featuring the paintings of Vermeer are scheduled, for later in the year.
April 10 through May 19, the professional theater company MusicalFare will present a production of the music of George Gershwin. Titled “Swonderful: The New Gershwin Musical,” the show includes such standards as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got Rhythm,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus matinees on Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The company performs in its own venue, on the campus of Daemen College, in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst. There is plenty of free parking, in a paved, well-lighted lot.
Tickets are $39 to all performances. Reserve them by phoning 839-8540 or by going to their website at www.musicalfare.com. The theater is handicapped accessible and hearing assistance is available for those who want it.
The Canadian Opera Company has three glorious productions on the verge of opening, at the Four Seasons Performing Arts Center, in Toronto, at the intersection of Queen Street and University Avenue.
Bellini’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” will open April 17, and will be performed April 20, 26 and 30, plus May 9, 12, 15, 18 and 24.
“Salome,” with music by Richard Strauss, based on the dramatization of the story from the Bible, by Oscar Wilde, will open April 21 and also be performed April 27 and May 1, 4, 7, 10, 16 and 22. Famed director Atom Egoyan is in charge of this production.
“Dialogues des Carmelites” will debut May 8, with additional performances May 11, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25.
Tickets range in price from $12 to $325, in Canadian funds. For complete details, go to the company’s website at www.coc.ca, or phone 416-363-8231.
What is turning out to be the runaway bestseller in the 2013 season at the Stratford Festival, in nearby Ontario, is the play “Mary Stuart,” by Friedrich Schiller. The play imagines a face-to-face encounter between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The two women rulers schemed and plotted against one another throughout most of their lives, and one eventually succeeded in killing the other.
The production highlights bravura performances by two of Stratford’s regular prominent actors: Lucy Peacock and Seana McKenna. The production has been so eagerly sought by ticket buyers that two additional performances have been added, to those which have previously been scheduled in printed materials. Those will be Aug. 27 and Sept. 20.
To purchase tickets to any of Stratford’s 2013 offerings, phone 800-567-1600 or go to their website at www.stratfordfestival.ca.
Buffalo’s beautiful Burchfield Penney Arts Center will offer a series of events to arts lovers, in mid-April.
On April 12 will be a celebration for five new exhibits opening in the gallery, between 1 and 8 p.m. Also on that date, between 8 and 10 p.m., enjoy a performance by A Musical Feast, a Buffalo organization which seeks to blend classical with contemporary music.
On April 13, from 1-5 p.m., participate in a celebration of the newly-opened bike path, along Elmwood Avenue. Also, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., attend a performance by LehrerDance. Also, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., see a screening of the film “Screening” featuring artist Paul Sharits.
April 14, the gallery is sponsoring a lecture and bus tour of sites in the Buffalo area where Charles Burchfield lived and painted.
For additional information about any of these activities or to learn if there is an admission charge and to reserve tickets, phone 878-3156 or check on their website at www.BurchfieldPenney.org.
The University at Buffalo will present four performances by their famed dance ensemble Zodiaque, April 19-21. Performances will take place in the Black Box Theater, in the Center for the Arts, on the university’s North Campus.
Tickets are $20 for the general public, and $10 for senior citizens and students. Reserve them by phoning 888-223-6000 or on computer at www.ubcfa.org.
Also at the Center for the Arts, recording artist Boz Scaggs and his band will perform on April 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $37 to $67. Use the contact information above.
Shea’s Performing Arts Center, in Buffalo will hold an elaborate dinner/gala on April 27. Start with a gourmet dinner on the stage of Shea’s, then progress down the street to 710 Main St., the former Studio Arena Theatre, for a performance of “The Wonderful Wizard of Song: The Music of Harold Arlen.” There will also be performances of the Arlen show without the dinner, on April 26, and at 2 p.m. on April 27.
Arlen was the Buffalo-born composer who created the score to the famed film “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” along with a large number of popular songs, including “Stormy Weather” and “Paper Moon.” Featured performer in the show will be SUNY Fredonia grad Marcus Goldhaber.
Tickets to the show alone will be $40. Attendance at the gala will be $500 per couple and $3,500 for a table for 10.
For gala tickets, phone 829-1172. For performance tickets, phone 800-645-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com or to any Ticketmaster outlet.