Matthew Warchus on Paul Ritter
Such painfully sad news about Paul Ritter’s death. Paul was without question one of my favourite actors in the world – both to collaborate with and to watch. Everybody I know who ever worked with him ended up using the word ‘genius’ to describe his truly exceptional talent. The level of precision he brilliantly deployed to both comic and dramatic effect was genuinely magical. Just take a quick look at the detail in his performance as the school teacher in Son of Rambo… effortlessly scoring a complete and utter bullseye… as he always did, on stage as well as on screen.
I was lucky enough to direct him in Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays The Norman Conquests, at The Old Vic, in which he channeled his character’s chasm-deep well of humiliation, anger and yearning to olympic comic effect. I will always remember the scene where he was furiously explaining the rules of his invented board game and he physically demonstrated how a bishop can move diagonally in chess. A livid man in a white suit chassé-ing diagonally across the room with his hand on his head, like a shark fin, as a mitre. Unforgettable. It’s still making me laugh even now.
More recently, I directed him in ‘Art’, also at The Old Vic. He imbued his aeronautical engineer character with the particular kind of insecurity, fear, rage and loneliness you only find in alpha male control freaks. Again, the precision and authenticity of his performance was breathtaking and, again, he was extremely funny at the same time. Selfishly, I am gutted that we won’t work together again – I had many hopes to. For me he elevated everything he did because he so deeply understood people and the struggles, quirks horrors and glories of life. His presence in a play guaranteed it would be something of a collector’s item.
In addition to his phenomenal gifts I found him to be a hugely knowledgeable, intelligent, sensitive, kind and politically principled man. He spoke about his family frequently and lovingly and my heart goes out to them in their loss.