Reflections on Ron Moody and the power of performance

I was really saddened to hear of the death of Ron Moody today and it got me thinking about the impact that people have on our lives. People who we don’t know personally and have no real connection with but still you feel a shared sense of grief that they are gone.

The reason, I think, is that they are a part of our lives and played a huge part in our childhoods and are deeply rooted in the feelings that we associate with them, the characters they portrayed and the films that they were in.

There are certain films that we watch as children that have a lasting impression on us and which enable us to better understand the world around us. Who can’t remember watching Bambi, The Land Before Time or the Lion King for the first time (and let’s not even get into Watership Down!) and trying to come to terms with why Bambi or Little Foot would no longer be able to see their mums or why Mufasa was gone. It’s devastatingly harsh but also teaches us a lot about humanity and the frailty and fragility of life. Learning that nothing lasts forever is a tough lesson to learn but seeing these characters, who become our friends, deal with it somehow makes it all okay and allows us to see that actually things aren’t so bad after all and will be alright in the end.

There also films that cast a spell over us Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Mary Poppins, Bed Knobs & Broom Sticks, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It (and so many more) all of which transport us, however briefly, into a world of pure magic and make-believe. Seeing strange characters such as those in Labyrinth and realising it’s actually okay to be different and make your own way in the world, not even thinking why the characters are different just accepting the fact that they are and being okay with that.

How many of you can honestly say that you didn’t feel excited the first time that you heard Peter Pan flew through the nursery window (he FLEW) and then took three normal (okay slightly well-off) children on an epic adventure to Neverland – a place filled with fairies, indians, pirates, lost boys, a maniacal one-handed villain and a crocodile that ticks.

We all love the power of a good story but there is something magical and inspiring about seeing those stories bought to life for us to see and experience.

For me I immediately had an image of Oliver! and sitting down as a child being captivated by it. Images of Christmas, family, time spent together and the joy that it brings are all closely associated with the news of this one character or person. I feel a personal connection to Oliver! as that was the film that really got me interested in performing. Being young and watching Oliver! you accept it for what it is. You feel for the young orphan boy, you despise Mr Bumble, feel afraid of Bill Sykes, love the fun of Fagin’s Gang and the family led by Nancy & Bett and want to be the Artful Dodger. You want to believe that these characters are real and that they exist and that if you wandered through London’s smoky streets you may stumble upon them and be allowed to join them as they adventure and sing. As you grow up you lose a bit of the magic but learn to respect the actors for their craft and skill in the performances that they give. They are truly masters of their craft.

I felt very similar when I heard that Robin Williams had died. It somehow felt as though a bit of magic, joy and wonder had been lost from the world and that it was perhaps a slightly darker place for not having them in it. But this is not the case – they leave behind them a massive and lasting legacy of great work that can be revisited and enjoyed time and time again. That’s the beauty of the gift that they were able to offer to us and share with us.  A gift that will continue to be shared by future generations.

And this is why theatre and film are essential art forms and should be deeply embedded in young people’s lives from an early age. As humans we need to experience these things and we need young people to be inspired by incredibly talented actors like Robin Williams and Ron Moody. The beauty of what they did for us was to create characters that we all loved,  characters we felt for, characters that we associate with. They did this with apparent ease and created a lasting impact on us. They may be gone but they will never be forgotten for the great gifts that they gave us. Their lives and souls were laid bare in front of us and they welcomed us in to become part of their worlds with open arms.

The arts are an integral part of growing up. For a lot of children the first live experience they will have is of a pantomime at Christmas and love or loathe them they do at their most basic level teach us about morality and the tales do have lessons embedded somewhere deep at the heart of them. In Bath we’re incredibly lucky to have the egg theatre and a whole host of different theatre schools which allow access to the arts for all ages.

We need our stories and our storytellers and those unique human beings who possess the magic to bring these tales to life for us. They are deeply embedded in our lives, in our souls and in our culture and I for one would like to say thank you for the laughter, thank you for the drama, thank you for the entertainment, thank you for the tears and emotions, thank you for bringing joy to millions of people and thank you for giving yourselves to us and forever holding a place in our hearts.

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