Monday, January 7, 2008

A Moment of Silence for the Divine Toby Stephens

I hadn’t thought about that evening in years. But there it was, his name in old-fashioned script on the television screen. It all came back in a rush.

The summer of ’95 I lived in London with my friend Cat. We shared a truly hellish one-room apartment – called a ‘bedsit’ – in the transient, back-packers neighborhood known as West Ken (West Kensington). We called our bedsit Chez Wombat, after the solid rubber frog-shaped doorstop that came with the apartment. (Naturally the frog was named Wombat.)

That summer was the hottest summer on record in 200 years, and our bedsit was a condensed little nugget of heat in an otherwise already sweltering city. We had only one window and one door. We would prop open the door and the window as wide as they would go and swoon on the two twin beds in the skimpiest versions of ‘decent undress’ we could come up with – the decency level was important not just because we were both Southern girls, but also because our sleazy landlord Jean-Pierre had a habit of dropping by unannounced in an attempt to catch us in the indecent state.

In retrospect it seems like our two major pastimes that summer were sweating, and trying unsuccessfully to find a truly super-strength British deodorant stick. Boots the Chemist – while in all other respects one of my favorite chain stores – rather let us down on that score. We imported American deodorant and felt a little better. If only we could have imported it for all the people who sweated next to us on the Tube. The number of strange armpits I have been tucked into at nose-level as we all crammed into the trains and reached up to hold the straps or bars… shudder. Uncounted and unremembered is better.

Cat and I had made a vow that our months in London would be as filled with London-only treats as time and money would allow. Cat worked at an OshKosh boutique on the Kings Road, and I worked as a secretary for a head-hunting firm near Piccadilly Circus. We took day trips on our days off – we saw Oxford and Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Hampton Court and Bath. And we fit as much of London into our evenings and other days off as we could – the Tower of London, the RSC (this was before the new Globe was opened), the British Museum, shopping in Covent Garden, West End musicals. We did pretty well for working girls on a budget.

One of our biggest successes was theatre tickets. With our student IDs and mid-week days off we could score ridiculously cheap tickets to fabulous shows. One night we went to see ‘Coriolanus’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican. Neither of us had ever read the play, and all we knew about it was that it was supposed to be Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.

I’ll say.

I don’t actually remember the play at all. I remember there being literally buckets of fake blood sloshed all over the stage. I remember battle scenes and impassioned monologues accompanied by sprays and sprinkles of red fake-blood droplets. But mainly what I remember is the actor playing Coriolanus. Unusually for us, Cat and I did not speak during the play. We sat quietly and watched as Toby Stephens, young star of the RSC, stormed and raged all over the stage, at one point so liberally doused with buckets of blood that his once-white shirt had been turned into some sort of clingy tissue. The play ends badly, of course. And messily.

It was late when the show was out. Cat and I had to get back home – the next day was a work day. We caught the Circle Line and rode for 40 minutes before getting back to West Ken.

It was so late we had the train to ourselves. We still hadn’t spoken to each other. About 10 minutes into the trip Cat took a deep breath, almost like she’d been underwater all this time and was only just coming up for air, and said, “Let’s have a moment of silence for the Divine Toby Stephens.” And we did.

We had Moments of Silence for the Divine Toby Stephens all that summer, and on occasion for years after. It’s one of those phrases that has instant time-travel-power. It can send me right back to the summer of ’95, my first year out of college, like a magic spell.

I hadn’t thought about it in years until two weeks ago when I settled in to watch the BBC two-part ‘Jane Eyre’ on PBS. Toby Stephens played Mr. Rochester. He’s aged a little. And Mr. Rochester is not my favorite character. But he still has it. At least for someone smitten more than 12 years ago he does.

Let’s all have a moment of silence, please, for the divine Toby Stephens.

14 comments:

Annette said...

Ah Toby Stephens - a brilliant actor and incredibly handsome to boot (even now with a few more lines!) Lucky you to have seen him on stage.

I'll join you in your silence....

JD said...

I've only seen clips of him in "Coriolanus" but he certainly tore up the pea patch. If you haven't yet done so, check out "The Rising: the Ballad of Mangal Pandey". Then I'm sure you'll be joining me in another moment of silence for the Divine Toby Stephens.

Ells1 said...

What a wonderful blog!! Come on over to Toby's fansite 'z11invisionfree.com' You'd be very welcome amongst friends. We have lots of good moments on the divine Toby!

Anonymous said...

Yes ... let's indeed have a moment of silence for the Divine Toby Stephens. Lucky you that you saw "Coriolanus", I too have only seen clips. I have been smitten with Toby ever since I saw the 2 part production of Jane Eyre March 2007. I have determined that the next play he is in ... I shall indeed get my self to London!!! (I am also a member of the invisionfree website)

Anonymous said...

I shall join you in a moment of silence for his supreme gorgeousness!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Loved reading your memories...See Toby in Coriolanus? How lucky are you!! ***turning green with envy***

check out the toby fan site at
http://z11.invisionfree.com/Toby_Stephens/

(I'm a member there as well)

Anonymous said...

After having read Jane Eyre numerously and watched the series i am totally and utterly besotted by Toby Stephens he truly has it all going for him sexy confidant talented-wowee he is definately my ideal man.My friends reckon i am totally nuts and a head case when it comes to Toby but hey do i care. Seeya.

Anonymous said...

Oh you absolutely must come over to http://z11.invisionfree.com/Toby_Stephens/

I'm also a member : there's lots of us to join in your moment of silence!

Ker - thud!

infatuated said...

mmmmmm-hhhmmmmm - yes, most definitely I am with you all on the moments of silence for the Divine Toby Stephens... can't say that I've ever been besotted by an actor - or anyone with a public face, for that matter - but after having seen Toby for the first time (where have I been all these years?) I must agree... the man is sublime... hot... elegant... gorgeous... sexy... irresistible... and so charming. If I lived in London I'd spend all my money on theatre tickets to any and every performance of his...

Anonymous said...

Coriolanus! I studied that year in Stratford at the Shakespeare Institute and it was my fav show by far. Saw it several times in The Swan and was in awe of Toby and the cast. It still is one of my favourite plays. Those were the times...

Anja

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Anonymous said...

I am truly sorry if i offended you with my naughty thoughts regarding Toby from now on i shall keep such naughty thoughts safley tucked away in my mind. So let me begin by sayng that Toby is indeed a talented and sexy actor who can just about turn his hand to any form of acting. I shall finish my comments on the divine and delicious Toby by blowing {him} a chaste kiss.

Georgia said...

What a great story and how very lucky you are to have seen him in Coriolanus. Toby was unknown to me until he played Mr. Rochester but now ...I would watch him read the phone book. I even tuned in to the BBC Radio Saturday just to hear him perform as James Bond in "Dr. No" - and I am in the US in the state of Georgia! I have exhausted everything Netflix has on him and have resorted to ordering books on tape. Can't wait to drive to work with him reading the Tales of the Arabian Nights to me. What bliss! Everything about him is seductive from that cocky swagger to that gorgeous face. Just thinking about him makes me weak at the knees. If only he would get another leading man part soon. Of course he has played some amazing villains but what a waste. Someone should be out there right now writing a screenplay just for him. They would make a fortune, the rest of the world could discover his amazing talent and I would be in heaven. Divine Toby Stephens indeed.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog - well written and interesting. Thank you for the concept of 'A Moment of Silence........ I too will have to make time for some of those. Have you seen Toby in 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall'? H has a gorgeous Northern accent in that and acted just as well as in Jane Eyre.