An Evening with Richard E Grant – Review – York Grand Opera House

richard e grant review york grand opera house

By Roger Crow, May 2023

Many of us came to Richard E Grant’s career at different points. For me it was Warlock, his first Hollywood fantasy offering which he landed after giving a powerhouse turn in Bruce Robinson’s low budget comedy drama Withnail and I.

That movie was such a supernova, it opened doors for all of its cast, including Ralph Brown, who basically recreated his character for Wayne’s World 2.

When Richard arrives on stage at York’s Grand Opera House as Withnail, in shabby overcoat and drunken persona, the crowd goes wild. It’s not long before his trademark million-dollar smile illuminates the theatre; Richard whips off the coat to reveal a splendid Union Jack waistcoat, dark trousers and boots. The coat is unceremoniously dumped on the floor, and we’re off.

Over the next couple of hours we are treated to that unfiltered REG that has made him one of the most likeable stars of the last few decades.

Less than a mile from the theatre, circa 1997, I’d bought his outstanding autobiography Withnails, and devoured it. Said book is still one of my favourite warts-and-all tales of making it big in Hollywood, and the chapter on 1991 cult turkey Hudson Hawk is the stuff of legend.

When offered the chance during the interval to ask a question via a QR code, I take my chance to see what Richard makes of that incident now.

Rumour has it producer Joel Silver wasn’t happy with Grant’s revelations, and clearly he’s not going to “go there” when he reads out my question: “Four key words. ‘Hudson Hawk. Joel Silver’. Please elaborate.”

Grant’s response is joyfully flippant: “F*** no, and f*** off.”

So that’s answered that question. Or not. However, thankfully he does go into great detail his early life in Swaziland; his relationship with his drunken father who nearly killed him with a gun; how that experience informed his character in Withnail and I, and his lifelong obsession with Barbra Streisand.

As a teen he wrote her an eloquent letter and offered Barbra the chance to stay with him and his family in Swaziland. The culmination of that obsession resulted in his night at the Oscars, thanks to his nominated turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (a fabulous performance if you’ve not seen it).

REG’s benign stalking is an often hilarious subject, especially as Grant punctuates such moments with perfectly timed selfies.

He’s also stunningly frank, revealing stuff that makes you wonder if you heard correctly.

“A heartfelt, hilarious, jaw-dropping couple of hours”

The beating heart of the talk, and the book A Pocketful of Happiness, is his relationship with late wife Joan. Unknown to me until last night, she was a vocal coach on one of my favourite films, Highlander. (My much missed mum had happened upon filming during a trip to Scotland circa 1985, and the movie became a favourite from the minute I saw it in 1986).

There are moments of genuine heartbreak on stage, and it’s impossible not to share the emotion as Richard recalls his first meeting with Joan; their relationship; why she didn’t want to share his moment at the Oscars, and of course most poignantly, her final days, and those who offered support, including Nigella Lawson and the monarch formerly known as Prince (Charles).

I’ll not reveal too much in case you catch REG live on one of his later gigs or read the book. Safe to say you might need hankies.

On one of those glorious spring/summer nights, when the sun is shining and it’s been a logistical nightmare just getting to the theatre, all of that hard work pays dividends thanks to a heartfelt, hilarious, jaw-dropping couple of hours in the presence of a sixty something who looks like a man half his age. Seriously, Grant has the energy of a twentysomething, and has that same sense of a youth telling a naughty story at a friend’s dinner party. The fact those ‘friends’ are strangers crammed into one of my favourite theatres is by the by.

Yes, I could have watched one of these shows via a paid for streaming service, as I did with a Stanley Tucci gig a couple of years ago, but nothing matches live theatre, and that almost palpable sense of emotion.

I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been affected by cancer. Like those big blue Na’avi in Avatar, we’re all interconnected, and sometimes it just takes conduits like Richard E Grant to remind us of the fact.

I’ve not stalked REG in the same way he has with Barbra, but he has been one of the brightest stars on Instagram over the past few years, and his almost daily posts, in which he’s been jogging, and enthusiastically doing pieces to camera about where he is in the world, or landing such a key role like a part in Star Wars: Episode IX, has been a joy. The way he coped with Joan’s illness and passing has also been as moving, and though he’s obviously still coping with her death, watching him light up a theatre and talk about all those incredible films, and meetings with Hollywood icons was definitely the “pocketful of happiness” I take from the experience.

He also reminds us that he was in Spiceworld: The Movie, which he did at the request of daughter “Oily”, and which may have attracted derision from some snooty thesps, but years later landed him some episodes of cult comedy drama Girls, because creator/star Lena Dunham was such a fan.

Grant also sheds light on the often baffling Marvel series Loki, which disappeared up itself. The short answer is, no, he hasn’t got a clue what it was about, despite playing a version of the eponymous character.

He finishes with a story about meeting Donald Trump (whatever happened to him?), and boom! We’re done.

Thanks REG. You may have sort of told me to “f*** off”, but I’ll not take offence. A terrific night all the same, and I look forward to savouring the book, while seeing where the next chapter of your Insta adventures, and this business called the show, takes you.


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