Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vanessa Redgrave: 'I want to give people the jolliest time' As the director of 2012's Brighton festival, Vanessa Redgrave hopes to save the Earth, fix the economy and uncover the real origins of the Arab spring. So why does Michael Billington think her firebrand days are over? Michael Billington (THE GUARDIAN)

Great actor, pity about the politics. That, for decades, has been the stock response to Vanessa Redgrave. But it always struck me as nonsense. The passion she displayed in her performances was inseparable from her activism. Read her 1991 autobiography, and you find that the flaming ardour she brought to Rosalind in As You Like It at Stratford in 1961 – which made her a star – fed into her commitment to Bertrand Russell's anti-nuclear Committee of 100, something for which she risked arrest.

So I was stunned when, during a recent public debate in Oxford, she talked about the danger of being "imprisoned by politics". While she remains a great actor, it seems the revolutionary firebrand, seen on every demo and a leading light in the Workers' Revolutionary Party, has now morphed into a crusader for human rights. And it is her humanism that strikes me most as we meet at her modest west London flat to talk about her latest role: guest director of the Brighton festival. She's following in some distinguished footsteps, those of Brian Eno and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. What made her want to do it?

The chief executive, Andrew Comben, told me the focus was on conflict resolution," she says. "That's what hooked me. I thought back to something said to me by a driver in Kosovo when I organised a festival in 1999 to celebrate the Kosovar Albanians who had survived the terrible killings. 'I'm so glad about this festival,' the driver said, 'because, while aid agencies give us a lot of help, they don't realise the soul needs to be fed.' That was when I really took on board that, contrary to the left and right point of view, art is not a luxury. It is a physical and spiritual necessity for any sane society."


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