Dame Diana Rigg astounded even her most ardent admirers with her performance as Mother Courage at the National Theatre on Tuesday's first night. The gruff, guttural, North Country creature she created had no antecedents in any of this actress's previous outstanding performances and she single-handedly steered David' Hare's dextrous rewrite of Brecht's - as well as her wagon - to deserved repeated ovations.
But there were stumbling blocks - like the pipe she must smoke on stage and the chicken she has to pluck, a particularly skilled piece of defeathering as it turned out.
She said: "I got the hang of the pipe quite quickly. It's a bit harsh on the throat but I don't have to smoke it for long. The chicken was no trouble, except for one preview.
"The chickens are bought deep frozen and one night they forgot to thaw one. Someone had the bright idea of popping it in the microwave, which cooked the innards from frozen. When I got hold of it on stage it stank to high heaven and it was all I could do to get through the scene without retching."