I am saddened to hear of Susannah York’s death. Her special radiance survives in her film performances, but just now I am remembering watching her from the wings one night in Stratford, being superlative as she spoke Gertrude’s speech, ‘There is a willow grows aslant a brook’ (Hamlet Act IV, sc.vii), describing Ophelia’s death to Laertes and the King. It is a justly famous purple passage, but all the more difficult to let it seem, as well as beautiful, poignant and dramatic, a natural progression in the story – the Queen describing a catastrophe she has just witnessed to Ophelia’s brother and her own husband.
Alex Jennings (Hamlet) and Susannah York (Gertrude), RSC, 1997.
That same year in Stratford, she played Mistress Ford to my Master Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

I last worked with Susannah in 2007 when we found ourselves with that special actor’s warmth and affection that rekindles when looking back on old and perhaps difficult times. We did a public ‘rehearsed reading’ together of the musical Alvaro’s Balcony at Her Majesty’s Theatre; I think it was just one read-through, a cup of tea and then we had an invited audience. I was impressed, as we chatted between times, that she seemed to be working for important causes. Although she was not in the least ‘starry’; on the contrary, down to earth, rather inclined to be a little nervous but with the right kind of humility. She managed that day, with seeming ease, to pull out of the bag an authoritative and charismatic performance.

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