Cell Mates

Saturday 11th March 1995

In 1995, I had left home and was away at college. I was living in a shared student house and to my great delight, it truly was just as scummy, dirty and repulsive as in The Young Ones, and I loved it! Being a student, I wasn’t quite so focused on now writing such a detailed diary, other distractions were taking over. So consequently I don’t have a lot written down about this day and will just have to rely on my memory for information.

I was studying Theatre Design and we were encouraged to see as much theatre as possible. Cell Mates was being publicised, I had seen Rik in a few interviews and he was in it with Stephen Fry, great I thought, I’ll have to see this. My mum, always keen to go to the theatre was happy to see it too. We hadn’t yet bought our tickets, when on the TV the  news broke, it was announced that Stephen Fry had walked out and had gone missing. It was big news and in the papers for a number of days as the story unfolded.

Here’s a piece I saved from The Telegraph:

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It looked like the play was still going ahead, so my mum rang the theatre to still see if we could get tickets – “was Rik Mayall still going to be in it?” she asked, “Oh yes don’t worry Rik Mayall is definitely still in it” the box office reassured her.

As usual we had a day in London before making our way to the theatre. On arriving at Leister Square tube we were walking up the steps out of the station, a man came rushing past us in a frantic hurry, he barged past my mum and was running up the steps, I didn’t see him, but my Mum swears blind that that man was Rik Mayall. If it was, then I guess he was probably running late, and having to make a quick dash to the theatre.

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I don’t remember there being a huge audience, we were sat quite high looking down on the stage, I think there was still noticeably plenty of empty seats. We both really enjoyed the play and I’m not just saying that because my hero was it it! He wasn’t Rik anyhow, he had transformed into the character of Sean Bourke from start to finish and totally carried the play – what a brilliant actor he was. Stephen’s disappearance had unfortunately plunged the play into a dark place, Simon Ward had stepped into Fry’s shoes when I saw it and sadly audience numbers were down. There were to be only four more days of performances, before the play finally closed. It was a great play and deserved to have much more success.

Pictures from inside the programme.

If you would like to read more about what happened, then I recommend Simon Gray’s book ‘Fat Chance’, he dedicates the book to Rik and praises his dedication and determination to keep the play afloat in what must have been an incredibly challenging time.

This letter from Sam Daster published in The Guardian, after Rik died, for me, I think is insightful and say’s a lot about Rik’s professionalism:

I acted with Rik Mayall just once, in 1995, in the ill-fated production of Simon Gray’s Cell Mates, directed by Simon himself. After Stephen Fry went Awol, we were all shattered, but no one more than Rik, because the play was virtually a two-hander, with the other three actors, of whom I was one, playing small parts to help tell the story of George Blake and Sean Bourke.

Only the actors and Rik’s agent, Aude Powell, who came for several nights to support Rik backstage, saw how much Rik suffered. He came offstage every night in floods of tears and it is a great tribute to his courage that he never gave up. I have seen this described as “professionalism”, which of course it was, but it was much more than that. It was pure guts. From Rik, it was an astonishing display of courage, loyalty and dignity and Simon quite rightly paid tribute to him in his book about the production, Fat Chance, by dedicating it “For Rik”.

From The Guardian, Monday 16th June 2014


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