I was fifteen when I first saw John Gielgud on stage, in a special matinee performance for London schoolchildren of the then rarely produced Much Ado About Nothing. He remains the most consummate of all the Benedicks I have seen since. At one point in the afternoon, Gielgud stopped the audience’s laughter with the raising of a single finger, as if to suggest that he, Benedick, was already bored with their frivolity. I left the Phoenix Theatre in a state of euphoria, knowing that I had just witnessed magisterial comic acting.
A few weeks later I returned to the same theatre, on my own, for Peter Brook’s production of The Winter’s Tale, in which Gielgud played Leontes and Diana Wynyard Hermione. They were as different from Benedick and Beatrice as it was possible to be. Instead of the friendly