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The drama of real life

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I admit to having developed a cynicism about actors’ memoirs. Not content with the drama of the lives they inhabit on stage or screen, they then have to serve up their own lives as drama, too, the vainglorious bastards. But there is nothing self-serving about Our Time of Day (Oberon, £16.99) Kika Markham’s often moving account of her relationship with her husband and fellow fine actor, Corin Redgrave.

In fact, this short book could have been a lot thicker had she dwelt fully on the achievements and activities of her mother, the Jewish anarchist and author Olive Dehn, and her father, pacifist and actor David Markham, who coincidentally acted with Corin’s famous father, Michael. Yet there is enough of the politics here to see where Kika got her campaigning spirit. It was this that bound her life to Corin’s in common cause.

I had been reviewing theatre for only a few a years around the time that Redgrave was “brought in from the cold”, to use his own phrase. Seeing his performances in Chekhov and Pinter at the National were like discovering an immense new talent. Until then, the son of Michael and brother of Vanessa and Lynn had, for much of his career, been the overlooked talent in this country’s greatest acting dynasty. What I hadn’t realised at that time was that this was also a period in which Redgrave’s health had started to fail with prostate cancer. Later, a heart attack left him brain-damaged due to lack of oxygen. This resulted in periods of heartrending confusion and short-memory loss, which changed the personality of the man with whom Kika had shared a private and professional life.

Here, Markham offers a possibly unintended lesson about actors and how the drama of their lives feeds into their performances. The tears in Redgrave’s eyes when performing Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, written when Wilde was in Reading gaol, related to the actor’s own recent time in a psychiatric hospital recovering from brain damage. Some actors’ lives really are as dramatic off stage as they are on.

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