Judi Dench hits back at theatre critic Spencer

May 5, 2009
Jack Bremer

Dame Judi comes out fighting after Telegraph reviewer says her ‘old boot’ roles are a bore

One of Britain's best loved actresses, Dame Judi Dench, has had a pop at one of Fleet Street's best known theatre critics, Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph. Spencer, the man who coined the phrase "pure theatrical Viagra" to describe the effect Nicole Kidman had on audiences for the 1998 production of The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse - in which the Hollywood beauty appeared fleetingly in the nude - recently described the same company's production of Yukio Mishima's play Madame de Sade as "pure theatrical torture".

As for Dame Judi in the role of Madame de Montreuil, mother-in-law to the Marquis de Sade, Spencer wrote: "Judi Dench comes on in the formidable old boot mode she has honed playing such roles as Queen Victoria, Lady Bracknell, Elizabeth I and M in the Bond movies, and spends the whole evening looking grand, sour and cross.

"Frankly this imperious turn is becoming a bit of a bore, and I think Dench must know she's landed herself in a dud because she isn't nearly as fluent with her lines as one might expect..."

Such lese-majeste could not go unanswered. In the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Spencer admitted to having received a stinging rebuke from Dame Judi. "I've always rather admired you but now realise you're an absolute shit," she wrote to him. And referring to a stage accident which made her miss a few performances, she added: "I'm only sorry I didn't get a chance to kick you when I fell over, ­ maybe next time..."

Spencer, far from being shocked by Dench's riposte, said his admiration for her had only increased. "We critics are constantly dishing it out and we ought to be able to take it too," he wrote. "Indeed, I'm often astounded by the silent passivity of the victims of bad reviews."

But before anyone feels sorry for Dench and books tickets for the show at Wyndham's Theatre, here's the conclusion of Spencer's review: "The kindest thing one can say about this cruelly punishing play is that it's lovely when it stops."

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