Magazine article The Spectator

Anxieties on and off the Stage

Magazine article The Spectator

Anxieties on and off the Stage

Article excerpt

TELLING SOME TALES by Anna Massey Hutchinson, £17.99, pp. 259, ISBN 0091796458 . £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

On the face of it the actress Anna Massey's life would seem to have been a charmed one.

The child of distinguished theatrical parents -- Raymond Massey, the powerful Canadian actor, and Adrienne Allen, the original Sybil in Private Lives -- Miss Massey was steeped in the world of the stage and made her first professional appearance in a West End starring role. Hers was the title part in The Reluctant Debutante, working with the greatest light comedienne of her time, Celia Johnson, and a fine supporting cast.

Anna Massey more than held her own in their company.

Ever since, her career has been as interesting and varied as most players could wish: she did not stick with drawing-room comedy -- a dying art form by the 1960s -- but has appeared in all manner of genres, from classics at the National to Royal Court plays such as David Hare's Slag. On film she has worked with Hitchcock, Ford and Michael Powell; on television she played the crypto-lesbian Mrs Danvers in Rebecca and, in an especially fine performance, Gwen John. She is also a familiar voice on radio and audio-books.

And yet until fairly recently her off-stage life has been fraught with insecurity and sometimes real unhappiness. Her early marriage to Jeremy Brett ended with his admission of homosexuality. She became the lone parent of their son, David, fortunately a great comfort. All the while she knew that she herself had had unsatisfactory parents: Raymond, an inhibited man, had left her mother the year Anna was born and was never like a true father; Adrienne, a witty and entertaining hostess, was generous but unmaternal. Only a beloved nanny and a wise stepfather brought some stability. Her brother Dan, whom I knew as an entertaining colleague, was in fact a chronic neurotic who ceased to speak to Anna for some years, though they were reconciled towards the cruel, cancerous end of his life.

Although devotion to acting was a merciful escape from real life it also brought Massey real anxiety. I have noticed that child actors -- she was almost one at her debut -- often lose confidence as they begin to analyse what originally came naturally. She has suffered from stage fright, a horrible sensation worlds away from nerves. The latter are probably a necessary rush of adrenalin in advance of a performance. That stalwart National Theatre player Michael Bryant once said on a first night, 'Nerves are vanity', a remark reported to Massey. …

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