Producers' Blog: Farewell Sir Donald Sinden CBE

Producers' Blog: Farewell Sir Donald Sinden CBE

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Regeneration producer, Matthew Gale, writes from the heart about a great stage actor and a dear friend.

I was lucky enough to have worked with and known as a family friend Sir Donald Sinden CBE one of our greatest stage actors who died on the 12th of September after 91 years of a life well spent. On Friday I attended his funeral in Kent that though tinged with sadness of course, because among other things I will not hear him greet me as 'my dear boy' in his velvet tones again, it was also a chance to celebrate his life with his family and friends.


On arrival at the Church there was a house full board outside the doors which was fitting as every seat was taken. We were greeted by Donald's grand daughters who knew my parents as my father had been one of Donald's closest friends for forty years. We were ushered to our seats in the second row and asked to make sure we left a seat on the aisle.

Dame Judi Dench took her seat on the aisle next to my father as the female Rector began the Welcome (I have to say she was nothing like Dawn French, I don't know why but whenever I see that there's going to be a woman presiding, I always expect them to be like the Vicar of Dibley, strange how ones minds wanders at these events).

The music began to play and Donald's coffin was brought in. Much to the amusement of his friends, the coffin was painted in salmon and cucumber stripes (the colours of his beloved Garrick Club). Thereafter, another female Rev introduced the ceremony; again nothing like the Vicar of Dibley. We sang Hymns and Donald's grandson Hal gave a wonderful reading of 1 Corinthians 13.

Lord Jeffrey Archer then gave the Eulogy in which he informed us of Donald's life and of their friendship. One of the things he said was that in his (Lord Archer) darkest hour, Donald was there to give support to him and his wife Mary when many others shunned him. Two things struck me about  Jeffrey's speech, the warmth and humanity Jeffrey showed which I had never seen before in his public speaking and the other was how he reminded us all of how long Donald had been a leading actor in screen, television and of course his first love the theatre. During Donald's sixty eight year career as an actor, he had only been "resting" (the phrase used by actors for being out of work) for three weeks. 

There were prayers following the eulogy and then Sir Patrick Stewart OBE who had worked with Donald at the Royal Shakepeare Company before going to Hollywood to become a star as Captain Picard in Star Trek got up to give his reading of 'When I Have Fears' by Noel Coward. Before he read he told us a story of how during his time at Hollywood, he had performed a show in London over Christmas which had been nominated as Best Entertainment at the Olivier awards. Patrick was given the weekend off from Star Trek and flew to London for the awards ceremony. For those who don't know; no one except the auditor and the President of SOLT know the result before the envelope is opened. Patrick was pleased to see his friend Donald was presenting the award he was nominated for. Donald came on stage and the nominees were announced. Donald then opened the envelope and with his quick wit announced Patrick Stewart, Best Entertainment, really? We all laughed as the Olivier award audience would have laughed when it was delivered by Donald.



Following Sir Patrick's reading we sang 'Jerusalem' which as it was my school song I know the words which cannot be said about most hymns. It always stirs in me the most English or should I say at this time British emotion about how we should all strive to make our land a better and fairer place.

The last reading was Prospero's speech from The Tempest delivered by Dame Judi Dench CH as only one of the world's greatest actresses could. It brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. After this the choir sang which gave us all time to reflect on the effect Donald had in touching our lives.

The proceeding were brought to an end in the usual fashion by a commendation and blessing. As the coffin started to leave, all assembled burst into spontaneous applause. Donald's last curtain call.

I would normally leave it there but I wanted to share an interesting conversation I had with Sir Patrick Stewart at the drinks after the funeral. Patrick was talking to my ex boss Duncan Weldon the well known west end producer so I took the opportunity to go up and start a conversation with Patrick.

During that week I had met with Combat Stress a charity now in it's ninety fifth year that looks after veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to see how we could work with them in relation to our production of Regeneration which deals with shell shock in the first world war. Sir Patrick is a patron of the charity and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his father who though not diagnosed, was certainly suffering from PTSD. We talked for twenty minutes about how all mental health issues are difficult to deal with but with hope that public perception and acceptance were changing. 

Lastly I promise, I must just say that my heart and good wishes go out to all of Donald's family and friends in their grief at this time

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.