Friday, 17 December 2010

Jo Heaton (nee Maxwell-Muller)

In one of those rotten twists of the great cosmic plan, shortly before I mentioned her in that last post, my lovely friend Jo died unexpectedly.
I met her when I was training - in fact she worked in the Student's Union as the permanent secretary. She was an unexpected choice - a bit off-the-wall and apparently rather ditsy, but this concealed a sharp intellect and keen sense of humour, together with a strong aversion to pomposity and pretentiousness. Well, there was a bit of luvviness, how could there not be? But it came from a different age, an age when the Spotlight Directory was one slim volume and everyone started their career in rep. A time when it was a bit tasteless to do commercials but you'd consider "Play For Today". So when Jo said you were a "supportive actor" she meant you had good stagecraft and generosity to other actors, and it was a quality she considered essential.

She was most famously cast at Christopher Plummer's insistence as Ophelia in the BBC's "Hamlet in Elsinore" co-production with the Danmarks Radio Company, when only 18. Her breakdown is described as "a memorably deranged rendition", but the film itself has never been released. As Alice's sister in Jonathan Miller's "Alice in Wonderland" one gets tantalising snatches of her talent, but I suspect that her greatest work was on the stage, that most transient and temporary of arenas, and certainly the only one she would have considered worth bothering about. When she first saw me on stage she visited me afterwards, put her hand on mine and said, in a sympathetic and regretful tone "Oh dear, I'm afraid you've got it". She didn't mean talent (although she sweetly thought that too), rather that I had the bug which would bring both great happiness and frustration - emotions she'd experienced sharply herself and which had meant a bumpy life.

RIP Jo darling. And as Jane Lapotaire remarked when we went backstage to meet her after a show, "You were better than all of us".