Thursday, 16 March 2017

A Tribute to Tony Haygarth

David writes…

I couldn’t stop thinking about that index finger.

Tony  (Haygarth) died a couple of days ago. Some of you – theatre-loving 30-somethings on up – will have crossed paths with Tony. More than crossed paths – will have admired him, been very fond of him, been enriched by him.

Still are enriched by him. Memories make us rich.

I know – it’s the verb tenses that are always so searing when life – life? – casts us adrift on that bourne, that ave atque vale bourne – I know Tony because Mary’s dear friend Celia was his girlfriend for several years. Tony and Celia went on the first London Walk Mary guided. Friends showing up to show support. The four of us went out. Hung out. Palled around. Pipped and Pocketed around town.  Obviously saw everything Tony was in.

Everything Tony was in was good. If it wasn’t good he made it good.

But let’s pick one that was really good. And that Tony made better. An unforgettable Bill Bryden-directed Eugene O’Neill production at the Cottesloe.

[Aside here] Ahhh, the Cottesloe. Those were the days. We thought they’d never end. The Bryden-era Cottesloe. That company – of which Tony was a charter member – evolved, in Simon Callow’s words, “a playing style like nothing seen on the British stage, and certainly not the London stage, for some centuries…they were a band apart.” Michael Coveney nodded at that production when he sounded that same plaintive, never never land, lost wild boys note in his Guardian obit of Tony, “he was a key member of Bill Bryden’s Cottesloe company at the National Theatre, the hard-drinking outfit whose dispersal was said to have resulted in an 80% nose-dive in takings in the Green Room bar.”  

I still remember – 35 years on –  Michael Billington’s (I think it was) review in which he described Tony’s sodden character seated at a table in a low life Manhattan? Chicago? Baltimore? bar. Seated, slumping, pissed. And then tipping over forward. Passed out. Face down on that fly- specked, beer-stained, ashes-strewn table top. And holding that position for half an act – 45 minutes or so. And Billington describing that moment – moment? – saying, “that vignette is so Tony Haygarth, so Cottesloe, so the brilliant work the Bryden ensemble is doing.”

I remember the review. And I remember the performance. Remember the face down on the table eternity. And another eternity.

Later in the play Tony’s character comes round. Comes round to die. His mates laid him out on a table in the bar. On his back. Table was in a corner. Our seats were directly above it. I kept looking down at Tony – partly, I have to confess, to see if I could see him breathing.

I couldn’t.

What I could see was that his – the corpse’s – right index finger was periodically – every eight minutes or so – slowly hooking upward. Almost as if it – he – was beckoning.

“Look what he’s doing with his finger,” I whispered to Mary. “What’s that all about?”

The four us went for some nosh after the show.

I asked Tony about the dead man’s moving finger.

He snorted. “That’s what happens. Corpses do that. I worked in a mortuary in Sefton General in Liverpool.”

Tony Haygarth. The consummate professional. The great actor. The truth teller.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that index finger.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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