In praise of understudies

The actor Ronald Fraser was famous for two things: his comic timing and his liking for a drink. On one occasion in the 1960s, he was happily sitting three sheets to the wind in a local hostelry, when he remembered that he was supposed to be on stage at a matinee. After walking unsteadily to the theatre, he stood in the wings and heard someone else in his role: the understudy, holding the audience in the palm of his hand. His name was Donald Sutherland, and he was revealing the quality that took him from bit parts on the London stage to worldwide stardom. The importance of understudies and covers