He was a clown among clowns in The Rude Mechanicals. He split the seams in Ubu Rex. In Exit the King, all gnarling teeth and smiles, he plunged into the fray with nary a hair out of place. He was a natural Chekhovian in The Seagull, with his tender gravity and deep-felt, worldly melancholy. In his final appearance at Belvoir, in the last moments of As You Like It, he lay Rossetti-like by a pool and gazed into his rippling image to see if the man there was a glory or a fool, or perhaps both. The moment summed up his lifelong quest as an actor – to know the human compass at all its points.
But it was as Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss that we saw him at his best: bursting with pleasure and longing, brilliant, tender, desperate and magnificent. It was a legendary performance.
Bille died on Sunday 13 January, two days after his 61st birthday. We remember him as one of the great oaks of the theatre landscape. He was a man of tradition with a passion for the new. He had a vast knowledge of the lore and craft of the trade, which he carried with him like the last treasures of a lost kingdom. (He was crazy for this kind of language!) He was an honest-to-goodness champion of young actors and young directors. He loved the whole mad shebang of the theatre, and we love him for what he gave.
Here’s to Bille.