“Ben Crispin is a force of nature”.
That’s The Guardian, in the Summer of 2010, the first time they came down to the Bike Shed. I doubt anyone who saw Ben as Steamer in Shaun McCarthy’s Beanfield – a play that told the story of the 1985 Battle of the Beanfield as though it were Henry IV mixed with A Midsummer Night’s Dream – would deny him as a force of nature. In every scene, he drew focus, showing off, quietly. He was flamboyant, heart-breaking, angry. He was a joy to work with in the rehearsal room and drove the whole team to greater and greater heights, forbidding complacency.
Six months later, Ben returned to devise and perform in The Little Prince, the show that opened our new space. Here his character couldn’t have been more different from Steamer in Beanfield, as he embodied the other-worldly, innocent-yet-wise prince. Ben moved to Exeter, worked behind our bar, performed in Cul-de-Sac and then took the lead in A Christmas Carol. This was a challenge, but one that Ben embraced with courage and commitment.
Writing this now, it seems such a shame that Ben has not graced our stage in over three years, having been such a central part of its first two. His magnetism, versatility and danger make him one of my favourite actors.
An image of Ben is spinning in my head. It is the opening scene of Beanfield. A light finds him, he is silent, still. Finally he speaks. “O for a muse of fire” – a cruelly difficult first line in a new play in a supposedly cutting-edge theatre. Ben says it simply, gently, a slight break in his voice. He pin points his character in one line – and its one of the most ubiquitous lines in theatre. My memory, of a character, evoking Shakespeare, to remember the past. The pain, the suppressed fury, the utter hopelessness.