It's a dream come true for Les Dennis as he prepares to tread the RSC boards for the first time in The Provoked Wife and Venice Preserved.

 I first came to Stratford with my school’s A-Level English group in the summer of 1970. One of the plays we saw was Twelfth Night. I sat in the audience thinking it was going to be a foreign language to me, but thanks to the clarity of the production and in particular the performance of Emrys James as a sublimely funny, touching Feste, the world of Shakespeare was unlocked for me and I was hooked.

I visited many times that decade and saw some wonderful productions that are still etched on my memory. Glenda Jackson and Alan Howard in Antony and Cleopatra were truly majestic, although again it was a clown who made the show so memorable for me. In the asp scene, there was a hilarious comic turn from an actor who showed such promise it was clear he was going to be a star. He was a young Richard Griffiths.

Sir Toby, Feste and Sir Andrew in the 1969 Twelfth Night.
Emrys James as Feste in Twelfth Night (front centre).
Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC Browse and license our images

In 1979 I saw what remains to this day one of my favourite theatrical experiences: Michael Bogdanov’s irreverent and truly exciting The Taming of the Shrew. Jonathan Pryce was magnificent as a motorbike-riding Petruchio opposite Paola Dionisotti as Katarina. The cast included Zoe Wanamaker, David Suchet and Ian Charleson, who delivered Tranio’s Mi Perdonato speech in broad Glaswegian. I went home and learnt it by heart the next day. And yes, in Glaswegian. 

I had already started entertaining, doing a comedy and impressions act in the working men’s clubs, but I promised myself there and then I would study and make every effort to become a good enough actor to one day make it to the RSC. Imagine then how excited and nervous I was when I got the chance to audition for this summer’s season at the Swan Theatre.

Three days after the meeting my agent called to say that I was to be offered a place in the Company. I was walking on air. What had been a youthful ambition had over the years become a bucket list wish and at the age of sixty five, nearly fifty years since that first visit, a dream had come true.

A group of onlookers watching something off-camera
Les with the company of The Provoked Wife in rehearsal.
Photo by Pete Le May © RSC Browse and license our images

This summer I will be part of the Company in the Swan Theatre, not to do Shakespeare (not yet) but instead two Restoration plays. In The Provoked Wife by John Vanbrugh, directed by Phil Breen, I will give my Colonel Bully and in Venice Preserved by Thomas Otway, directed by Prasanna Puwanarajah, I will take on the role of Priuli, a Venetian Senator and stern father to Belvidera, the tragic heroine of the piece.

In 1979, the year I saw that amazing Taming of the Shrew, I did a summer season on the North Pier, Blackpool, playing twice nightly to visiting holidaymakers. Who’d have thought it? From the end of the pier to the Mecca of the Bard himself. This will be quite a different summer season but I look forward to it with such joy and gratitude. Be careful what you wish for. Dreams do come true.

Les Dennis

Les Dennis

Les first came to prominence as a comedian in the 1970s after a winning set on Opportunity Knocks. He became a stalwart of Saturday night TV in the 80s and 90s starring in TV comedies including The Russ Abbott Show and The Les Dennis Laughter Show performing sketches and impressions, and most famously as the host of Family Fortunes between 1987 and 2002 on ITV. His most recent work in theatre includes End of the Pier at the Park Theatre, for which he was nominated for the OFFIE award for ‘Best Male in a Play’. Follow Les on Twitter @Les Dennis.

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