Theatre can be a strange social world. As often as not, due to the off-kilter hours, the particular demands, and the immense dedication it takes, it becomes one’s life, not just one’s work. Friends within that world matter especially, because they understand it. But friendships within theatre are also sometimes peculiar. It creates intimacy rapidly, but its usually transient nature means that those friendships frequently don’t remain close. The ones that do manage to stick, however, become precious. So the loss of those people is keenly felt.
On the morning when we were waking up for the day of the Mankind performance, we were greeted with the sad news of the death of Charles Hunt, an actor with whom the HIDden team has worked for several shows. We were looking forward to seeing him at the performance, and so it came as quite a shock. Our last communications were his offer to loan us costumes if we needed them, and his good wishes for the show; which he hoped to attend. That, right there, summed up Charles. He was always supportive, always encouraging, and enthusiastic about medieval drama in a way that is somewhat uncommon outside of the academic community.
The comments which poured onto his Facebook page, maintained by his family, all seemed to speak of the two most profound qualities with which we too remember him: Charles was a true gentleman, and a devoted theatre person. It always seemed fitting that, at Christmastime, he annually portrayed Charles Dickens for evenings of dramatic readings; for Charles was the modern-day embodiment of the courtly Victorian Gentleman: a soft-spoken, kindly individual, who carried himself with a quiet grace.
We first met him as an actor who played Joseph in our London debut production. While the Nativity play we had chosen did not include the comical Joseph’s trouble about Mary, there’s no doubt he could have handled it. Charles had a good sense of the comic turn, but was also totally convincing as the protective and devoted Joseph who would be the infant Jesus’ Earthly father figure. When The Baptism came around in 2014, the decision to include God had already been made, and he was really our only choice for the part.
Our Artistic Director, Laura Elizabeth Rice, notes:
From a director’s standpoint, Charles was delightful to work with because he always had ideas and suggestions, but he wasn’t a backseat driver. He’d mention them after rehearsal, and if you wanted to try them out, he was happy to do so; if they didn’t fit in with a production, he didn’t push the matter. You could also always count on him to try what was asked and to be enthusiastic about any new project. When I remember him it will always be with the gentle smile he bestowed upon Jesus as he blessed him from Heaven in The Baptism.
The sense of history and performance that turned him into a remarkable impersonation of Charles Dickens every winter is probably what made Charles such a good fit with HIDden, but he also seemed to believe in supporting young companies as they found their way forward; in this respect we are not the only ones indebted to his kindness. It meant a lot that someone well established in the local theatre community shared our idea that the past is a rich field to mine for performance in the present.
Charles was that friend in theatre who stayed – a true character of the theatre, a fantastic actor, and an unconditional source of support – we will miss him very much.