I Was At the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art With Ken

The Observer, November 26 1995
by Geraldine Alexander

1981 was a famously good year for talent at RADA. Kenneth Branagh, Jo McGann, John Sessions, Katherine Hunter and Douglas Hodge stood out from the start. . . We were all great friends. Branagh hung out with Sessions and Mark Hadfield. They were inseparable. All three of them were good comics.

Branagh was the confident, contemplative one. I vividly remember his stunning performance as the drunken doctor, Chebutykin, in Three Sisters. Everyone was astounded by his precocious technical ability. He also played Hamlet to my Ophelia, a role which he prepared from the second week of the course. Hadfield played Polonious, and is playing him again in In the Bleak Mid Winter, which is directed by Ken and released this week. And Branagh is preparing to play Hamlet yet again in a new film: it's uncanny.

The pressure was really on us at RADA but we were all so dedicated, we didn't seem to mind. We lived and breathed each other. One of the things that has changed since is that there are more women now. Back then it was 7:14, the ratio was meant to be a realistic reflection of the business out there.

The amazing thing is, most of us still keep in touch. And of course Ken uses us in so many of his performances. When I met him at the Belfast Film Festival last week, he did an incredibly generous thing: he arranged a special screening for us (my company Method and Madness) because we weren't able to attend the official gala. He was totally exhausted but he still managed to do us a favour. That's just what he was like at college: a really nice guy.

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