Judi Dench’s account of her life in And Furthermore makes no attempt to hash out complex issues, thankfully; she, in the words of John Ford, has “been [her] own text”. This is Dench’s account “as told to John Miller,” so in the preface she insists that “I do not consider this an autobiography.” As such, the book possesses a chatty feel, as if Dench were sitting next to you, recounting highlights from her illustrious career (and how illustrious it is: The Stage recently, and controversially, named her the greatest stage actor of all time). She certainly begins on the right foot, detailing how straight out of the Central School of Speech and Drama she landed the role of Ophelia in Hamlet at the Old Vic, an incredibly prestigious company.
What comes through story after story is Dench’s humor and sometimes hard-edged sensibilities. She demonstrates little patience for other actors who are too full of themselves, and she delights in practical jokes, including, famously, sneaking onto the stage of Les Misérables while she was appearing in a performance of All’s Well: “The RSC production of Les Misérables was playing at the Queen’s Theatre, just at the other end of the block from the Gielgud. The Countess is off for a long while in the middle of the play, and I thought it would be thrilling to be able to put in my CV that I had been in Les Mis.” Such mischievous shenanigans reveal a determined, down-to-earth character, perhaps a bit sensitive to criticism but possessed of a keen sense of humor:
"We didn’t get very good notices for Madame de Sade, which I usually try to shrug off and forget, but I was very cross with the critic of the Daily Telegraph who used his review not just to attack that play, but launched into a criticism of me in several previous parts. I broke the habit of a lifetime and wrote to him: 'I used to admire you, but now I realise you are a C.S., Charles Spencer—Complete Shit.' He wrote back to say he was not a complete shit: 'I love my wife and I’m kind to my cat.'" (Click here for Spencer's recent reflection on Dench's career.)
I had the pleasure last February to see Dench in Peter Hall's production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre - Kingston (see chapter 21), in which she held the audience utterly enraptured with Titania’s speech (“These are the forgeries of jealousy”). Given her insistence that she wants to continue to act “right to the end,” here’s hoping that many more audiences will be able to enjoy one of the most enchanting actresses of the modern era. Or, as she states with her characteristic wit: “You don’t need to retire as an actor, there are all those parts you can play lying in bed, or in a wheelchair.”