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I thought Laurence Olivier was just a kind old gentleman.

Byline: Laura Davis

THERE are few names in the history of theatre as well-respected as that of Sir Laurence Olivier.

He is remembered not only for his own portrayal of the Shakespearean greats but for his work in developing and encouraging future generations of actors.

Yet to Alan Cox, aged 11, he was just "a kindly old gentleman".

They acted together in the 1984 TV version of John Mortimer's autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father - Olivier as the father and Cox playing his son as a boy (Alan Bates played the adult Mortimer).

"What was quite funny," he recalls, "is that when I did my first telly, I met Eric Morecambe in the canteen. I was standing behind him in the queue.

"Then whenever he was on telly my mum would go 'look, there's your friend'.

"It was the same with Laurence Olivier, I worked with him when I was 11 years old and I had a sense of his status but it was later that I became really interested in his legacy in terms of the National Theatre and the Shakespearean movies he made."

Cox's real father is the great Royal Shakespeare Company actor Brian Cox, who played Hannibal Lecter in the film Manhunter, so it seemed natural he would follow him into the profession.

He was five years old when he was offered his first role, in the 1976 TV movie A Divorce, by a producer friend of his father.

"When you're five you don't really know what it's all about," he says.

"My dad used to do a lot of theatre and I used to see him, it was just an extension of my home life."

This summer Cox has taken up residence in Chester, where he is playing Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing as part of the city's open-air theatre festival at Grosvenor Park.

"It's a fantastic role to play. I turned 40 this year and it's one of those great Shakespearean comedic roles for a man of my age," he says.

"Benedick is a soul who's very cynical about love and, as happens with most of us, almost despite himself falls in love with this equal match in wit and banter and strength of character in Beatrice.

who falls "His great friend Claudio, who falls in love in a much more traditional, romantic way, actually paves the way for his older friend to fall in love as well."

The famous theatrical catchphrase "the show must go on" has been the festival's mantra since it opened earlier this month as torrential rain and flash floods have washed out many parts of the North West.

"If it rains we get wet," says Cox, who played Doctor Watson in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes.

"Luckily we're slightly sheltered under the trees, but there's a great sense of endurance, particularly with the audience.

"Whatever the weather they're there with their golfing umbrellas and their picnic hampers.

"One night they were dancing in the picnic area in the rain."

* CHESTER'S Open Air Theatre season is at Grosvenor Park until August 8. Performance details at www.chesterperforms.com

CAPTION(S):

Alan Cox, far right, as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing and, left, eavesdropping from behind a hedge
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 27, 2010
Words:540
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