- March 13, 2012
Legendary actress and political campaigner Vanessa Redgrave is this year’s Brighton Festival Guest Director. Andrew Kay followed her for a day as she met the press and the public here in Brighton
It started with Anish Kapoor, then Brian Eno and last year Aung San Suu Kyi, memorable names, important characters in their own right – but none creating quite the excitement of the announcement that this year’s Guest Director for the Brighton Festival was to be Vanessa Redgrave.
Redgrave comes from a theatrical dynasty of international acclaim. Throughout her prolific career she has maintained a balance of both screen and stage work that sees her as busy toady as she was back in the early ‘60s when she first came to prominence.
As if balancing those two parallel acting threads were not enough she has long been an ardent political campaigner. Her strong views have often made the headlines but despite controversy she maintains a strong advocate for freedom and the fight against terrorism. She was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1995, a role which she has taken very seriously and continues to do so. “Investing in children means investing in peace. It means investing in a future free of war. It is an idea I have dedicated my life to.” And it is with this motivation in mind she has come to Brighton Festival 2012.
I will be honest and say that I was rather terrified of meeting her, but when I did she held my hand gently and stared deep into my eyes, as if she was scanning my soul. Her eyes are the colour of the sea at the foot of the cliffs beneath Tiberio’s villa on the island of Capri. And for a moment I fear that they might be as dangerous, after all Tiberio took pleasure in throwing people down onto the rocks in the ice blue sea. But moments later I realise that she is relaxed and calm, despite a barrage of press attention, cameras and film crews.
I start by congratulating her on her most recent Best Actress award. “The shelves at Chateau Redgrave must be heaving under the weight of your accumulated awards,” I joke.
She rocks back in the leather armchair and laughs loudly. “Ha, more like hovel Redgrave!” I immediately realise that this is a woman with no pretences.
Already I have listened to her making her first speech as Guest Director and she has been keen to explain that she sees her position as an actress and a public figure as one that she must use to further her causes, and right now her main cause is the plight of children across the world.
I ask her to tell me about the part she will play as guest curator of this year’s Brighton Festival. “I’m not a curator, no, far from it, I am a guest director. Curatorship is a much larger job and not one that I would undertake.” It’s a ticking off but done in good humour.
I then ask if she actually gets to see much theatre “It’s one of the sad things about being a busy working actor, apart from a snatched matinee here and there we hardly get to see any live theatre. It’s one of the things that I really miss.” So will she be making a point of seeing as much as she can in this year’s festival? “I plan to see as much as possible. There are so many exciting things to see. It will be good to be an audience member for once.”
My time with her is limited by the busy schedule of press events but later the same day I go along to hear her speak once again. This time she repeats her commitment to children’s causes and says that she is very excited about the opening event of the festival, the annual Children’s Parade. So much so that she is determined that she will lead the parade of over 5,000 local kids on Saturday 5 May.
She also takes the opportunity to talk about her other passions and to introduce her son, the film maker Carlo Nero and the film that she will present during the festival. The Killing Fields is an impassioned look at how our taxation system impacts on our ecosystem and asks the question ‘Can we save the environment and the decimation of species by making a massive shift in the way we run our economy?’ It’s clearly an issue she feels very strongly about and already I have heard her attack current systems, questioning the logic of taxing both employees and employers for every job and making it sometimes impossible for small business (particularly in the agricultural sector) to employ people.
For one of the world’s best known actors, politics is never far behind her work on stage and film, and no doubt she will use her time here to further her campaigns for freedom and for the rights of children. At the same time this is a rare opportunity to hear her perform and speak live, to see some of her great film roles and to perhaps get closer to one of the greatest actors and political campaigners of her generation.
At the end of the evening she is asked if she will read the poem which has been used as her inspiration for her directorship. Earlier in the day she pays tribute to Festival Director Andrew Comben by saying that the choice of poem, ‘From The Republic Of Conscience’ by Seamus Heaney, was his suggestion. It may well be that he suggested the poem but after hearing this great performer read it you know exactly why he did, and why she has always and will always command such great audiences.
“I came back from that frugal republicwith my two arms the one length, the customs woman having insisted my allowance was myself. The old man rose and gazed into my faceand said that was official recognition that I was now a dual citizen. He therefore desired me when I got home to consider myself a representativeand to speak on their behalf in my own tongue. Their embassies, he said, were everywhere but operated independently and no ambassador would ever be relieved”
‘From The Republic Of Conscience’ by Seamus Heaney
Vanessa Redgrave is Guest Director of Brighton Festival 2012 and will be making various appearances throughout the month of May.
Box Office 01273 709709, www.brightonfestival.org