Nigel Hawthorne Muses on Choice Roles And Touring

IT wasn't hard to track down Nigel Hawthorne one hot summer's morning. A familiar voice - part C.S. Lewis, part Sir Humphrey Appleby (from the BBC's ``Yes, Minister''), and part George III - sent bold clues along the corridors of the warehouse that is now the headquarters of the National Youth Theatre.

The touring company of the Royal National Theatre was using a rehearsal room to sharpen its production of Alan Bennett's ``The Madness of George III'' before its departure for the United States. When a tea break was called, Hawthorne came bursting into the anteroom with anything but regal dignity, perspiration dripping from disheveled gray hair, his smock smudged with makeup.

But there was a sparkle in his eyes. ``In modern theater you don't very often get a part as enormous as this. It's a long role, a powerful role, a very, very emotional part,'' he said in a Monitor interview.

``I was able to play it [in repertory] at the National for a year, but not for the eight performances a week I'll be expected to give in the States.

``In many ways, it's a distressing play to watch. But the outcome is so electrifying that people who have seen the play have felt nothing but exhilaration.''

Hawthorne first toured North America with the National Theatre in 1974, playing Touchstone in an all-male production of ``As You Like It,'' and two years later he played on the South Bank for the first time in Franz Werfel's ``Jacobowsky and the Colonel'' and ``The Magistrate'' by Arthur Wing Pinero.

Hawthorne looks back gratefully on the experience that led to his 1991 Tony Award for the role of C.S. Lewis in ``Shadowlands.''

``I worked with Jane Alexander and a wonderful company.... Also the audiences in New York are much warmer than they are in Britain.

``It was a very personal play for me because I involved myself very deeply in it, as I do in George III. I'm very lucky at my time of life to have had two absolutely extraordinary roles in succession.''

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