When the curtain came down, the lanky producer-director — already famous for staging the avant-garde play Look Back In Anger and making the film A Taste Of Honey — went backstage to see her.The meeting was brief, possibly because she was with her mother, the actress Rachel Kempson.
Even Vanessa, his favourite child, came in for lashing criticism.
Once, he introduced her to some friends with the words: ‘She’ll never be an actress, so we’re having her do languages.
Still a virgin when they met, Rachel was so deliriously in love that she thought she could handle anything.
Somehow, she came to terms with the fact that her husband was having an affair with the actor and playwright Noel Coward within a year of the marriage.
With growing anger and disbelief, he read out Richardson’s first love letter to Vanessa, which ended with the pithy command: ‘And tell Mr Levin to go f*** himself.’ She never did go on another date with the unfortunate Levin.
Instead, Vanessa embarked on an affair with Richardson that was so torrid and intense that literally nothing else seemed to matter. Richardson’s flatmate, the playwright John Osborne, was astonished to come home one day to find that the lovers’ ardour had almost wrecked the place.
Rachel Kempson knew better than most what it was like to be married to a bisexual.
Her husband and Vanessa’s father, Michael Redgrave — one of the best-regarded British actors of the last century — had been frank from the start of their marriage about his need for extra-marital liaisons.
By the Seventies, her husband — who’d been knighted in 1959 — was seeking ever-kinkier thrills, such as clunking about naked inside a suit of armour or having ping-pong balls fired at threads that had been pulled through various parts of his body. ‘My father’s affairs must have made my mother very unhappy,’ their youngest daughter, Lynn, once admitted. I cannot imagine how my mother and father weathered what they did.’ Vanessa, sister Lynn and their brother Corin were always aware that their parents slept in separate beds.
And, by 1953, Rachel had taken a lover of her own, the married actor Glen Byam Shaw — an affair that continued for 20 years.
There were cigarette burns everywhere, smashed furniture, empty champagne and whisky bottles rolling on the carpet, and a length of curtain hanging down — as if it had been swung from by a chimpanzee. After Vanessa and Richardson moved on to a tiny mews house, they once again smashed up the furniture with their uninhibited love-making. Osborne later remarked that the couple ‘seemed to compound a piranha-toothed androgynous power within each other’.