Among the qualities possessed by Dame Diana Rigg the “untold depths of savagery” referred to were certainly on display at one performance of Tony Harrison’s version of Molière’s The Misanthrope, staged at the National Theatre in 1973, in which she played, in Michael Coveney’s words, the role of the “bitchy hostess” Célimène.
In mid-tirade, she suddenly dried. The audience froze. Her immediate cry of “Prompt!!!” was not only shrill but also terrifying. How the poor prompter must have felt can only be imagined. After a short pause, the performance continued. As we settled back in our seats there was a palpable atmosphere in the theatre compounded of both relief and an accompanying sense of awe.