My family and I were saddened on Thursday morning to learn of thedeath of Alan Rickman – too sad to write our feelings at the time. Alan, of course, is famous as an actor and director, both on stage and in film. But we first came to know him when, with Katharine Viner (now editor-in-chief of the Guardian), he edited our daughter Rachel’s writing into the play My Name is Rachel Corrie. The care Alan took for our family, his courage to take on this particular project and, most of all, the respect he showed for Rachel and her writing, impress me still as truly extraordinary.
Imagine a person of Alan Rickman’s talent, stature and experience stepping into the space between a recently bereaved family, the Israel/Palestine conflict and a young woman’s private email and journals. Voluntarily. I could not imagine such a thing had Alan not done exactly that. As My Name is Rachel Corrieconcluded its first run in New York late in 2006, I told Alan: “You know, you were working without a net. There was a very real risk that no matter what you did with Rachel’s writing, our family would not be in the emotional state to approve of it.”
He responded: “If it doesn’t have risk it is not worth doing.”
We know Alan as a giving person, and most of all, he gave of himself. He was working on a film during the 2005 Royal Court Theatre runs of My Name is Rachel Corrie, but managed to direct not only the play, but also our family’s first trips to London to see it. Not that our new friends at the Royal Court needed any instruction on how to host us. But there were things that, with time, we came to recognise as “Alan touches”. Lunch here, tickets to a play there. We were treated always with incredible care and kindness – and it could have been so different.
When David Johnson brought the play to the Playhouse theatre in the West End in spring 2006, Alan was in town. He and his partner, Rima, met our evening plane with a car and gave us a ride – not to our hotel, but across the Thames. We walked for a while on the right bank of the river and then turned onto the downstream side of Golden Jubilee Bridge towards Embankment and the Playhouse. About half way across, Rima called out: “Alan, we’re on the wrong side!”
It seems Alan had done all of this so our first view of the West End marquee would be lit up and reflected in the water of the Thames. But from the side where we walked, the marquee lights were obscured by the Hungerford Bridge until the last few steps. Of our group, Alan was perhaps the most disappointed by that aborted first sighting, but then he was the one getting the ribbing!
Although they never met in person, Alan was a great friend to Rachel. I remember after the play’s New York run at the Minetta Lane theatre, when he gently explained to us the rather obvious truth that after two years of editing and directing My Name is Rachel Corrie, it was time for him to move on to other projects. He told me: “It is clear the play has ‘legs’.”
“Wings” is more like it. My Name is Rachel Corrie has flown to every continent except Antarctica and been translated into more than a dozen languages. Cindy and I have lost track of the number of times we have seen it – but not of the foster daughters we have collected from the actresses who have played Rachel.
Nevertheless, it is not the wide attention to her writing that has been the greatest gift to our daughter. To many people, Rachel had become an icon. Some would say “larger than life”, but I would say smaller.
Icons are two-dimensional. They lack depth. When Alan and Katharine Vinercrafted My Name is Rachel Corrie from Rachel’s writing, and he shepherded it through those first four theatre runs, they managed to capture Rachel’s energy, her humour and her ability to question herself, as well as her world. For those who did not know Rachel but only knew of her, the play gave back to my daughter her humanity – no small achievement.
Alan Rickman was and remains deeply loved and appreciated by all of Rachel’s family and will be missed immensely.