Remembering Raphael Jago: Giving up on giving up
Whenever I dream of Raphael Jago, I know it’s about not giving up. In the sense of not giving up on myself. Mr Jago was one of those people that cut through my bullshit in a really healthy and jovial way. The first time I met him was my first audition at Webber Douglas. All the other auditions I had were pretty standard but this one stood out. It was about waking me up. He re-directed my piece right there in the audition. He called me out on a couple of my tricks. He got me to address the panel directly, as if it was actually happening now. Which it turned out, it was. I left that church feeling exhilarated, like I’d just been run over by a truck, creatively speaking. I loved it.
I was put on the waiting list for a place at the school. Group sizes were small, competition was fierce. I decided to pay him a visit to try and convince him so I took a train to London from Leeds where I was living at the time, and I went to the school unannounced and met him on the stairs. It was a true meeting. He seemed amused and impressed by my nerve. He gave an enigmatic answer with that mischievous smile of his. I knew we had connected.
During my time at Webber Douglas my relationship with authority was, as it very often is, somewhat rocky. Whevever I go, I seem to feel the need to shake things up, to question the way things are run, to point out injustice, to campaign against complacency. It’s not an easy path in life. There were times when we disagreed. But Mr Jago was someone in a position of authority who seemed to admire this spirit in me and in others. I felt he had a talent of really seeing the essence of each person and their potential.
I felt he saw my potential, in a way that I could not at the time. He saw what was unique about me, and he saw the challenges it presented in terms of the industry. He gave me an opportunity to try out for a big scholarship, massive panel audition, terrifying ordeal. We had extra classes together, he reflected on the unique set of qualities I had, that was nevertheless difficult to pin down in terms of casting. When it came to the crunch I crumbled under the pressure. Nerves, clinging, hope and fear – I am frequently crippled by nerves as it turns out. Perhaps this is exactly why I have chosen – or been drawn into – a life of performance. It is where I learn. It is where I burn up ego like a moth in a candle. It is where I die and am reborn in every adrenalin-fuelled moment.
Two days ago I attended a memorial service for Raphael Jago at the Actors Church in Covent Garden. A church full of former students, all with their own story to tell about this legendary man and what he had meant to their career. Music, words, contemplation and much Anthony Sher, Samantha Spiro, Julian Fellowes, Terence Stamp, Steven Berkoff, Hilary Wood, Alexa Jago and more wonderful people paid touching tribute, through performance or personal recollection. I had not up to this point known that Arthur Miller had been Mr Jago’s favourite playwright. I had always been obsessed with Miller and had written my university dissertation on his plays, which I knew backwards. Death of a Salesman, quoted so movingly by Alexa Jago, was a particular favourite. I often think of Willy Loman’s line, ‘I still feel – kind of temporary about myself’ as a heart-breakingly poetic expression of the experience of living.
What thrilled me most was realising that my experience of Mr Jago had been so similar to that of many others just like me. I felt joyful to reminisce over my time at Webber Douglas, to hear the stories of others, to be part of that blessed tribe. I saw my teachers again with renewed gratitude and love. It wasn’t always easy of course. Nothing in this profession, or indeed in this life, is without challenges. But to know that I belonged to an institution, or rather a community that fostered such a creative and anarchic spirit fills me with inspiration to go on, and never to give up on myself.