Perhaps the ultimate ‘actor’s actor’, Michael Bryant was a mainstay of the National Theatre’s company for many years, and could usually be relied upon to give the most interesting and skilful performance in any given production.
I was lucky enough to see him on a number of occasions in variety of roles – an intense and frightening Prospero in Peter Hall’s final season, a show-stealing turn as the clerk Foldal opposite Paul Scofield in ‘John Gabriel Borkman’, and, most memorably for me, a sardonic, world-weary Fool opposite Ian Holm’s ‘King Lear’. In this role most of all he embodied everything I feel acting should be about – profoundly moving, sensitive and funny, the epitome of the company member serving the needs of the play.
Regardless of the many stars in attention-grabbing lead roles over the decades, it is still Michael Bryant I most strongly associate with the National. His standing was such that, when he died, his name was permanently fixed to the door of his dressing room, and his ashes were housed in boxes under the three stages of the National Theatre.