Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

And the Oscar Goes To. Eton; on Sunday Eddie Redmayne Is Tipped to Win Best Actor for His Part in the Theory of Everything. Here School Friend Joshua Neicho Reveals Why Their Alma Mater Produces So Many Top Thespians

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

And the Oscar Goes To. Eton; on Sunday Eddie Redmayne Is Tipped to Win Best Actor for His Part in the Theory of Everything. Here School Friend Joshua Neicho Reveals Why Their Alma Mater Produces So Many Top Thespians

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Neicho

I WANT to see the real India!" Eddie Redmayne tells me, imploringly. He's sitting a few feet away, head cocked to one side and his large, expressive lips a-quiver. He is wearing foundation through which his freckles are still prominent, a floppy sunhat, a pale green Twenties-style structured dress and jacket and a subtly padded bra, which I had helped fasten a few hours earlier. At this moment, however, I am being anything but helpful: dressed in a baggy tunic and with a turban on my head, I look away and intone mystic riddles: "The goddess said to the milk maiden come come come come come come come. But, she neglected to come."

Not a pre-Oscars fantasy, but my scene with Redmayne in the Eton College production of A Passage to India 18 years ago. We were in the same year and both loved acting. He was playing ingenue Adela Quested, I was in the role of the pseudish Professor Godbole. The now famed Simon Dormandy had just arrived as director of drama and his adaptation of E M Forster's novel was his first show. There was a much-rehearsed group mime, a scene where we created a forest out of bamboo canes balanced on our fingertips, and some members of the cast were blacked up.

In Redmayne, and another rising talent called Hugo Macdonald, Dormandy had found two actors to play female leads convincingly. Other casting choices were presciently starry: Tom Hiddleston, writer-director-actor Seb Armesto (due to appear alongside Cressida Bonas in Tulip Fever) and gangly comedy actor Jonathan Broke were all in the show.

As Redmayne heads to the Oscars this weekend -- he is nominated for Best Actor for his role as physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything -- perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that such a bumper crop of talent should come from my era. Mine or any other. After all, Eton has produced a long line of actors, extending back through Arthur Bourchier, who ran West End theatres including the Garrick in the early 1900s, Patrick Macnee (Steed in The Avengers) and Jeremy Brett (an earlier TV Sherlock).

More recently there's Dominic West (The Wire), Damian Lewis (Wolf Hall, Homeland), Harry Lloyd (The Iron Lady), Kitty Fisher's co-owner Oz Milburn, Perrier winner Will Adamsdale, Sam Hoare (Bert & Dickie), Adetomiwa Edun (Merlin) and comedy duo Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer, to name a few.

An Old Etonian previously scooped an Academy Award when Atticus Ross won Best Soundtrack for The Social Network, and four went to Chariots of Fire, directed by OE Hugh Hudson.

So why does Eton have such a track record for producing dramatic talent?

Redmayne, who went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, has spoken of his admiration for ex-RSC actor Simon Dormandy -- or "Dormo" -- once saying he owed his career "entirely" to this teacher. "Occasionally I'll call up Simon and say, 'Can I just come and run through some stuff with you?'" Redmayne told The Standard last year. "He is still the person whose advice I seek."

Dormandy saw Redmayne's talent early on. "Eddie was in the first production I did, my own adaptation of A Passage to India. I knew as soon as I met him that he was exceptionally gifted."

Every Eton actor claims a mentor. Nyasha Hatendi, who arrived in Redmayne's year from Zimbabwe aged 16 and appeared most recently in Mike Bartlett's King Charles III, names playwright housemaster Angus Graham-Campbell, an influential 1968-ish figure for generations of Etonians, including Hugh Laurie. "Drama was already inside me, Eton was what brought it out," Hatendi says. For me it was Master-in-College Joe Spence, a former Olivier Awards judge and ambitious play adapter.

Eton's draw for these teachers are its extraordinary facilities. It is heavily endowed and wealthy (fees are PS35,000 a year) -- although many recent acting alumni such as RSC performer Tobias Beer and musicals star Will Barratt were scholarship boys. …

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