Review: Lungs, Old Vic - the 'live' theatre experience and a few thoughts on the play itself (I wasn't blown away)
Lockdown lessons for theatres in audience relations

10th birthday list: Favourite Ben Whishaw stage performances... and encounters

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know my favourite actor is Ben Whishaw. It's an admiration of talent pure and simple, I may not always like the play (or film) he chooses but he never disappoints in what he brings to his roles.

Ben Whishaw Bakkhai Almeida Marc Brenner
Ben Whishaw in Bakkhai at Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner

I'm always excited about his next project and ever hopeful that he treads the boards again.

It wouldn't be a theatre blog birthday celebration without reminiscing about some of my favourite Ben Whishaw performances...and encounters.

I don't stage door, apart from that one time in New York but our paths have crossed a few times. I've only spoken to him once (New York), the whole speaking to celebs thing makes me cringe, besides I'd only make a tit of myself and say something stupid which would haunt me.

(PS there is a bit of cheating in this list because some of these pre-date Rev Stan's Theatre Blog but if I make the rules, I can break them 😉)

The watch incident (Leaves of Glass, Soho Theatre, review from my old blog)

Mr Whishaw first came to my attention on the big screen in the film Perfume but it was around the same time I had started going to the theatre again.

I saw that he was in a play at the Soho Theatre and was curious to see him on stage.

A week or two earlier I'd been at the Soho Theatre seeing some comedy with an ex and passed him on the stairs but it was when watching the play that 'it' happened.

I was sat on the front row and during the play, there was a fight - a sort of scuffle/grappling sort of fight - during which Ben's watch flew off and hit me on the foot.

Did I return it? Yes, of course, because I'm the person who'd get tapped on the shoulder as I walked.  The usher did look a little bemused as I handed it back explaining where it had come from.

Fellow audience member #1

I normally sit in the stalls at the Donmar but I ended up in the circle for Polar Bears when I swapped tickets with my boss who couldn't make the date he'd booked.

My kindness was rewarded because who should be sitting right in front of me?

Fellow audience member #2

You know when someone in the middle of the row behind you arrives last minute and everyone has to stand up to let them in? Guess who? Yep, Mr Whishaw and he managed to drag his leather jacket, which was draped over his arm, across my head before taking his seat right behind me.

It was Last of the Duchess at the Hampstead Theatre and a bit of a thespy night overall. He was with Romola Garai and they were watching fellow The Hour cast member Anna Chancellor who was in the play, I think Joshua Maguire was there too. 

Mojo Harold Pinter theatre

Psycho Baby in Mojo, Harold Pinter Theatre

Mojo has appeared on a few of my lists already and if I had to choose just one stage role of Ben's, it would be Baby.

This was a really messed up character. Free-wheeling with both a magnetic abandonment but also liable to turn nasty at a blink. And yet the more you learn about Baby the more you can understand and he becomes quietly tragic even if he isn't wholly likeable. 

It was a lovely contrast to his previous stage role, Peter in Peter and Alice and good to see him not playing 'nice'.

God-like in Bakkhai, Almeida

I know people who hated the play and I must confess I struggled with the chorus, but I absolutely loved Ben's portrayal of Dionysus. This was how I described him in my review:

When Dionysos is around everything is sexually charged, everything is charged with energy, a raw earthiness. Even the silences are charged such is the skill of our two leads.

Just reading that takes me back.

Cock, Royal Court (review from my old blog)

This play holds a special place in my memories for several reasons.

It wasn't just Ben, the play and his performance but it was seeing him alongside Andrew Scott and Katherine Parkinson.

Then there was the seating arranged as if around a pit to watch a fight. The stage was small and the space so intimate in my review I said you almost dare not breath for causing a disturbance.

The actors would sometimes sit among the audience and yes I happened to be sitting in the right spot. 

Cock was also the first thing I went to see with PolyG. Via Twitter we realised we were going to the same performance so decided to meet up and have been theatre buddies and firm friends since.

At the performance we saw, there was a post-show Q&A. Ben was painfully shy back then and looked really nervous throughout, twiddling his hair and looking at his lap.

Such a contrast to the performance he'd just given - but that's acting.

Rufus Wainwright was in the audience that night too and asked a question. Well, it was more of a long gush about the play but...

Pride Lucille Lortell theatre poster
Pride poster


The Pride, Lucille Lortel...and the New York encounter

I was fresh out of a long-term relationship when it was announced that Ben was going to be making his Broadway debut alongside another favourite actor of mine, Andrea Riseborough. I'd never been to New York and being footloose and fancy-free I organised a solo trip.

Now the play is superb, an exploration of love and gay relationships in two very different time periods but it was while on the other side of the Atlantic I decided to break my stage door/talking to actors rule.

You can find the full story and review by following the link above but the crux of it is that I shouted at Ben Whishaw in the street. Kinda.

A few of us had waited in the cold for him to appear after the play and he tried to sneak off up the street so I called after him.

Bless him he did come back and was very polite and sweet and I'd like to say we had a lovely chat but we didn't because I was terrified of saying something stupid and regretting it.

Ben Whishaw Against

And the most disappointing role...because I don't have rose-tinted spectacles

When Ben was cast as the lead in Against at the Almeida, I thought as he was playing a billionaire the character would have a big ego and be quite arrogant, how else do you get to be a billionaire so young?

But Luke wasn't. I in part blame the play for making the character too nice. I had tickets to see it more than once and I gave them up.

I think my review was kinder than I felt, in part because I wanted it to be better.

There are a few fellow Ben Whishaw fans out there so which is your favourite performance?