In Praise Of… Michael Bryant


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.

4 thoughts on “In Praise Of… Michael Bryant

  1. Malcolm Hobbs

    Just found this. I couldn’t agree more! For years after he died I’d find myself sitting in one of the auditoria at the National thinking “Michael Bryant should have been doing that!” His Enobarbus in the Peter Hall “Anthony & Cleopatra” was masterful – the “barge she sat in” speech still remains my favourite piece of acting I’ve seen in any theatre.Another moment where he showed his total commitment to the idea of being a company actor was when he came on literally as a spear carrier in Cymbeline which was being done alongside The Tempest (Prospero) and A Winter’s Tale (Old Shepherd). Without upstaging anyone or showing any signs of “selfish” acting, he just filled the stage whenever he walked on it.


      1. Malcolm Hobbs

        I missed his first role at the National – Lenin in “A State of Revolution” but saw him in John Galsworthy’s “Strife” where he played a union leader ( a bit ironic as that was when there was all the union trouble at The National at the time). I think that was 1979. I can’t pretend I saw everything he was in there but caught quite a few. He played some wonderful “men seeking revenge” for Michael Bogdanov in the early to mid 80s – superb in “The Mayor of Zalamaya” and “The Spanish Tragedy”! He played Gloucester to Anthony Hopkins’ King Lear in the David Hare production and completely nailed it (but then didn’t he always?) and then, much later the Fool with Ian Holm (the only time I found the character funny!) My one major regret was missing him in his final role in “The Cherry Orchard” with Vanessa Redgrave – he had become too ill to carry on by the time i got to see it!


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