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Clive Wood

June 20, 2010

Had a bit of a squee moment earlier watching Doctor Who. Not over the awesome use of time travel near the beginning – I love it when DW actually exploits the time-travel mechanic rather than just uses it to get places – or over the many hilarious lines, or the Doctor’s rousing speech of the day, though all those were good; I imagine all of these are even as I type being dissected in meticulous detail all over the Interwebs.

Nah. For me a highlight – possibly the highlight – of the episode was when the grizzled Roman commander walked into frame and I was like “He looks fami- WHAT IS RICHARD OF YORK DOING ON MY SCREEN?”

To backtrack for a moment. In March of 2008, I and about a thousand other increasingly frazzled theatregoers spent a dizzying four days in Stratford-upon-Avon watching Shakespeare’s History Cycle play out in front of us. Richard II on Thursday night, 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V on the Friday, 1, 2, and 3 Henry VI on the Saturday, and Richard III on the Sunday afternoon. It was extraordinary. It was exhilarating. It was one of the single greatest experiences of my life, I think I may safely say.

During and after the party on Sunday night, to which everyone who’d done the full eight-play marathon was invited, I got to talk to and get autographs from quite a number of the cast. Uniformly, they were very nice people, though naturally rather wild-eyed by that point.

None of them are household names. None of them have made it big, to my knowledge, in the intervening two years. But between the thirty-four of them they were responsible for some of the greatest Shakespeare I have ever seen* and their faces have stayed with me. When I spot one of the Histories cast in something else, getting on with the whole acting thing, it makes me obscurely happy. Acting’s not exactly the best career for job security, and it’s good to know that they’re still out there doing what they’re so damn good at and (presumably) love.

The Roman commander in “The Pandorica Opens” is a bloke called Clive Wood, who played Henry IV Bolingbroke in Richard II and Henry IV, and then carried on to do Richard of York** in Henry VI. It’s his voice I hear when I read  “So shaken as we are, so wan with care …”, or the heart-rending speech on the molehill from 3 Henry VI. Both Henry and Richard are big, heavy, play-carrying parts, and by god he made them his own. It’s a little sad to see someone who I know is capable of performances of that power and depth given only a dozen-line part. But he did that well, too, and I guess acting’s like that.

He wasn’t at the afterparty that time, so, because I was desperate for his autograph, I acted on a hunch derived from a basic knowledge of actors’ habits and tried The Dirty Duck down the road. He was there, and he was very gracious about having his drinking interrupted by a breathless teenager with an autograph book.

And that is my story about Clive Wood. And I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post was meant to be except to dwell happily on how wonderful the Histories were and how awesome Clive Wood is and how I sincerely hope that Doctor Who will continue to keep Britain’s character actors in work for many, many years to come.


*For reference, I’ve seen fifty-five productions of Shakespeare in total, covering thirty-four plays and including performances by Ian McKellen, David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Harriet Walter, Simon Russell Beale, Zoë Wanamaker, Kevin Spacey, Greg Hicks, Penny Downie, Josie Lawrence, and many more. And I can still honestly say that the Histories were right at the top.

**Richard, Duke of York (he who gave battle in vain***), father of Edward IV, Richard III, and their brothers. He dies in 3 Henry VI, but his ghost appeared briefly in Richard III.

***”Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain” is a British mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow. He did give battle, many times, and it was ultimately in vain as he died uncrowned, his son Richard Jr. ran the country into the ground and then the Tudors took over anyway.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Skinner permalink
    June 20, 2010 1:07 am

    I hope you got to see Mark Rylance in – and producer of – the all-male production of Twelfth Night at The Globe. That was pretty darn good. A man playing a woman playing a man is quite a feat to pull off, but he* managed it.

    *not Rylance, he was playing Olivia; someone else.

    Incidentally, my ideal use of time travel was used in the van Gogh episode. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d love to do. Show Babbage* the computer , show Caxton** a newspaper printing press and that sort of thing.

    *Incidentally, there’s strong evidence he stole that idea and wasn’t the first anyway – Johann Helfrich von Müller probably was
    **again, not the first (but that one was obvious)

  2. Paul Skinner permalink
    June 20, 2010 1:12 am

    Oh, and show Clive Sinclair how to make a product that doesn’t require Blu-tac; but that doesn’t need a time machine.

  3. wickedday permalink
    June 20, 2010 1:12 pm

    I didn’t see Rylance in Twelfth Night, unfortunately – slightly too young. I did see him in Cymbeline a year or two after that, however. (Strange production, but he was good.)

    Also, yes, that’s a great idea. Actually, there’s a good one: take Shakespeare to a modern-day, big-budget production of one of his plays. Wonder what he’d make of that?

  4. Peggy Stone permalink
    July 26, 2010 9:16 pm

    You can imagine how frustrated Clive Wood fans are on the other side of the Atlantic, with no chance to see him live, all these extraordinary reviews to sigh over, and only the occasional sighting on imported British television to keep us going. I began getting myself up to speed on “Doctor Who” purely with an eye to “The Pandorica Opens” once I got wind of it, and he did not disappoint. I also attended San Diego ComicCon last weekend where that episode was show on a large screen in front of about a thousand people, and there was a happy stir among some in the audience at his entrance, so I wasn’t the only one to sit up and take notice.

    For my money, his William Marshall in the Patrick Stewart/Glenn Close “Lion in Winter” made the disc worth buying…. He had more presence than anyone else on screen and can do more with NO lines than most people can with a whole script. I presume you know by now that he’s had another couple of minutes as Henry I in “Pillars of the Earth.”

    Could the RSC PLEASE start recording some of his Shakespeare? I understand the History Plays did not lend themselves well to filming, but at least the voices…!

    Since you say you are a teenager, can I recommend his performance as Captain Smollett in the 1990 “Treasure Island”? Not only is it the best version ever made or that ever WILL be made, but Clive Wood’s performance is simply astounding. You will have to hunt it up on VHS (or find it in blessedly good quality clips of 10 minutes each on YouTube), even though it has long been the most requested VHS-to-DVD transfer on Turner Classics.


  1. Random referral of the day « This Wicked Day

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