Murray Melvin on Brendan Behan
I’m on the Tube heading for home from Stratford. I’ve just been interviewing actor Murray Melvin at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, where he worked with Joan Littlewood.
It was the first outing for my LiveScribe smart-pen as recommended by Jemima Kiss of The Guardian for interview recording. It performed fine but I ballsed up the last bit (5 mins) because of a technical mistake (you need to restart record mode when you change pages in the smart-notebook (it ain’t that smart).
So I want to capture that last bit for posterity while it’s fresh in my mind as it was about Brendan Behan. Murray played the hostage in the original TRSE production of the eponymous play.
Most importantly he poopooed the notion that Joan wrote any of Behan’s stuff.
Behan habitually attended performances of The Hostage in Stratford and would get up mid-show in the auditorium to interject. For example, after a song: “I’ve written an extra verse for you.” The audience loved the disruption. So did Joan as it kept the actors on their toes and the performance fresh and alive. And the new verse would be even better than what was already in the script.
Murray felt Joan loved the “destructive” nature of Behan’s character. In the same way that she was drawn to the destructive energy of the teenage boys hanging out in front of the Theatre with her encouragement.
Murray emphasised that Behan was from a family of storytellers. He would regale the company with stories, prompted by Joan. “Tell us the one about…” He’d go on for three hours then notice the time. The bar’s open, he’s off. Then Joan would ask the assembled actors: “What did he say about your character?” and scribble down furiously the collective memory of what had been said. From that she’d spot the moments of real brilliance and extract from the 3 hours 3 minutes of pure gold.