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In 1957, Michael Benthall, a director at the Old Vic, took a chance on a young woman straight out of drama school, casting her as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet starring John Neville and Coral Browne. I was lucky enough to be in the audience with my mother when Judi Dench, a velvet-voiced cherub in virginal white, made her début. An infinite variety of stage and film performances have gone by since then, but none has erased the memory of her stage presence that night.

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In the movie The Producers (now a musical), Gene Wilder accuses Zero Mostel of treating actors like animals. ‘Have you ever seen an actor eat?’ is Mostel’s pithy reply. There is a truth buried in this joke: eating can be important to actors in a profession where much time can be spent between jobs, ‘resting’, as it is euphemistically called.

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