For the time I have spent talking about Bertie Carvel (to my friends, to other theatregoers, to anyone who will listen frankly), you would think I have seen him on stage in everything he has done. In fact, I have only seen him in two roles: as Rupert Cavell in The Rope (Almeida) and as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.
To my great regret, I missed him in Alexi Kaye Cambell’s The Pride (Royal Court) and his television work doesn’t really count: on tv he is allowed – or limited, depending on how you look at it – to be the handsome man that he is, but Bertie Carvel thrives when he looks nothing like himself. Or rather when he looks nothing like any human being has ever lived. It’s hard to avoid that often, on stage, he looks rather strange. And as much as I don’t care about actors who transform themselves, in his case I will make an exception.
My enduring memory of The Rope is the final scene: Bertie Carvel, playing a foppish man with a huge talent for barbed and witty lines and quite ridiculous hair, becomes the moral weight of the story in the space of a couple of lines. Frankly I hadn’t seen it coming. Carvel can be tremendously affecting in the most unlikely of moments and roles, and that’s very exciting.
When it comes to Matilda, I am no Johnny come lately: I saw it in its fourth preview in Stratford. It was all kinds of perfect even then. And Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull was as iconic as he should be, but also surprisingly moving. Carvel’s performance is so committed, emotionally truthful and passionate that you almost forget his Miss Trunchbull is the villain of the piece.
Bertie Carvel will be next on stage at the National Theatre production of Tirso de Molina’ s Damned with Despair . It doesn’t look like there will be disguises. But I wouldn’t complain if there were.