One of the UK’s most loved stage and screen actors, Timothy West, has recalled the first time he trod the boards, as a John Lyon pupil 66 years ago.
Returning to the School on Wednesday 26th September to talk to pupils about his life and career, Timothy West CBE OL, spoke about his first ever role as Egeus in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and how the School provided a great opportunity for acting, despite the lack of facilities at the time in comparison with today’s well-resourced and thriving Drama Department.
Timothy West was in conversation with another former pupil, Ethan Peters OL, who left John Lyon in 2016 and has since helped create Middle Road Theatre, a new company which puts on performances starring, directed and produced entirely by current and former students.
As a pupil in the post-War years from 1946-1952, the renowned stage actor who is also well-known from his television roles in both Coronation Street and Eastenders, talked about the inspiration he took from his English teacher, Sammy Cowtan, whose love of literature was passed on to many pupils, and who would give boys the chance to act scenes of Shakespeare in class. This led to his role in the School play, which also garnered his first ever review in the School magazine: “…where all were so conscientious it is hard to spotlight any: but still a special word of praise is due to the young players T. West (Egeus) and D. Wilson (Philostrate).”
Asked by Ethan Peters about his advice for young actors, Timothy West emphasised the importance of practice, speaking about his early career in repertory theatre, performing in excess of 40 plays in a year, learning lines within days and performing plays over a few nights before moving on to the next show. He also advised young actors wishing to perform Shakespeare to go outside and shout the lines at each other in open spaces where the archaic words and seemingly overblown language sound better than in the confines of a small studio.
For those wanting to pursue acting, he said to ‘go into TV for fame, film for the money and stage for the love of theatre and literature’.
The 100-strong audience of boys, their friends and families, staff and Old Lyonians then had the opportunity to ask further questions, discovering Timothy West’s favourite role (King Lear), his favourite theatre (Bristol Old Vic), and why he took on certain roles…(because he was asked to!).
The conversation was followed by a double bill of plays by Middle Road Theatre, a darkly humorous The Waiting Room, written by Ethan Peters himself, and an abridged version of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, where Peters and another Lyonian, Alex Clarke OL faced each other in the tale of friendship and bickering, despondency and hope.
Pupils typically join John Lyon in Years 7, 9 and 12, largely from a North West London catchment area including Harrow, Wembley, Stanmore, Pinner, Watford, Rickmansworth, Northwood, Ruislip, Hillingdon, Uxbridge, Ickenham, Northolt, Southall, Ealing, Acton, Edgware, Brent Cross, Finchley, Barnet, Camden, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, as well as other parts of Middlesex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.