Famed actor Edward Petherbridge turns talents to painting and writing
- Credit: Bronwen Sharp
Edward Petherbridge may be best known for a long career as an acclaimed classical actor, but he has many other creative talents up his sleeve. I catch up with him on his lunch break in between rehearsing for his celebrated two-man play, My Perfect Mind, which he describes as a “lite King Lear spin-off” and a humorous and touching show about his life, acting and his experience of not playing Shakespeare’s monarch because of a stroke in 2007.
But for now, the 77-year-old is gushing about his artwork. One of his paintings is being shown at the renowned Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The Conductor is an imaginative portrait of his older brother on point duty outside the Bradford Alhambra, circa 1946.
“I asked him a couple of years ago, before he passed away, ‘Did you ever do traffic duty?’ and he said, ‘Yes’, so I thought I’d do a painting of him there,” Petherbridge explains.
“It’s rather extraordinary to me that my brother will be seen there in the RA.”
The Bradford-born Petherbridge is undeniably excited to have his painting recognised.
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“I’m in the same room as Tracey Emin,” he says proudly.
“There are an awful lot of works in that room so I can’t say I’m in bed with her – but you know what I mean!”
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He has also painted about a dozen works of his local area – West Hampstead, which he’ll be showcasing at an upcoming special event at West End Lane Books, West End Lane (date tbc).
These illustrations will feature in a new book he is writing on West Hampstead, called NW6 and All That with his friend Kathleen Riley.
Petherbridge has lived in the area for many years with his wife, actress Emily Richard, with whom he has appeared on stage several times.
“We are discovering that the history of the area is unbelievably rich. There are all kinds of silent film actors, comedians, scientists, Nobel Prize winners and Royal Academicians living there – more than you would ever think. Doris Lessing even lived in the next street from me, for many years.
“It all connects up in a rich web that we can hopefully make a story out of.”
Petherbridge refuses to take all the credit, though, praising theatre historian and scholar Riley for her research.
“She treats her laptop as if it were a dusty archive in the heart of Camden library or something!
“She’s found paintings, illustrations and wonderful original adverts of auction houses that give you a real picture of what life was like in West Hampstead when it was still a village.”
So how does a classically trained actor, who has received an Olivier award for his theatre work, and twice been nominated for a Tony, manage to juggle acting, writing and painting?
Despite two major strokes, Petherbridge retains an ardent joie de vivre.
“Well, I’m turning 78 soon and I’m trying to put a brave face on it. I’m just getting as much crammed in before I die!”
My Perfect Mind is at The Young Vic from September 3-27. youngvic.org. To find out about Edward Petherbridge’s upcoming talk at West End Lane Books, visit welbooks.co.uk.