You don’t need me to tell you that Alan Rickman passed away last week, or how shocking and unexpected his death from cancer was at the age of 69, just days after his contemporary David Bowie shuffled off this mortal coil in similar circumstances.
I had just sat down at my laptop mid-day last Thursday after returning from a meeting when the news popped up in my Twitter feed. I was working in a shared office that day and was so startled by the news, I interrupted a stranger at the desk opposite to tell him the news. It turned out he [Steve] had once met Rickman as a child at an autograph-signing.
I’ve been a little luckier. I was lucky enough to see Rickman perform onstage, playing Elyot opposite Lindsay Duncan‘s Amanda in Howard Davies‘ production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, at the Albery Theatre (now the Noel Coward) in 2001. That performance won him Best Actor in the first year that I ran the WhatsOnStage Awards.
I had the immense privilege of chairing a post-show Q&A with Alan Rickman – I was terrified but, by all accounts, it went very well…
It was the Awards five years later that gave me the opportunity to meet him a few more times. My Name is Rachel Corrie, about the American student activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian house, won three prizes, including Best New Play in the 2006 Awards. The play was based on Corrie’s emails and diaries, edited by Rickman and Guardian journalist Katharine Viner. Rickman also directed actress Megan Dodds in the solo piece. I met Alan, Katharine and Megan to present their awards.
When My Name Is Rachel Corrie transferred to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, after its run at the Royal Court and in New York, I also had the immense privilege of chairing a post-show Q&A with Rickman. (I was terrified but, by all accounts, it went very well! In the dressing room afterwards, he told me I’d done a great job. Phew!)
To most outlets, Rickman seems to have been “the Harry Potter and Die Hard star”, first and foremost. I think this does him a disservice.
I tweeted about some of this on Thursday, when I was also struck by how many theatres were tweeting about Rickman too. These were not just condolences but also some terrific archive photos from stage productions early in his career and also heartfelt tributes – so many – to how much he has continued to support them in recent years, through patronage, donations, special appearances and more. While Rickman may not have been on the London stage in many years, he was doing a great deal behind the scenes theatrically.
Since Thursday, of course, there has been – rightly – an avalanche of media coverage about Rickman’s career. But I’ve been a little disappointed at how heavily weighted its been towards his film career. To most outlets, he seems to be “the Harry Potter and Die Hard star”, first and foremost. I think this does him a disservice.
So, I wanted to carve out this little space that concentrates on Rickman’s enormous contribution to the stage. I’ve collected some salient press cuttings – and also theatrical tweets in his honour. Also, as a Labour Party member myself, I wanted to big up his years of political activism and how that affected people – including former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, current leader Jeremy Corbyn and the late Rachel Corrie‘s family.
Rest in peace, Alan Rickman. Thank you for everything.