Thursday, June 07, 2007

"A Fine Northern Lass"



When a wartime schoolgirl, this woman rode her bike down country lanes, thinking "great thoughts and spouting pieces of poetry".
When a student ( reading English at Liverpool in the 1940's) this woman dreamed of being a headmistress, of travelling each summer in Europe, of embarking upon passionate love affairs...
But this woman had dramatic flair, she had imagination and a fine perception of people.
She had dignity, bearing and gravitas..
She also had a talent for mimicry and this talent gradually led her onto the stage...
And this woman loved the stage.
Never did she feel so alive as when she performed on a stage!
SO, obviously, A Big Decision had to be made!
After University, she took a year off to decide which path her life should follow.
AND thankfully, the stage beckoned in the form of work at the Liverpool Playhouse and the rest, as they say, is theatrical history...
And now this woman is almost as old as The Queen ( and she works equally as hard as The Queen)
She's been Hyacinth, Hettie, Miss Ruddock. She's been numerous others...

Yesterday I watched Katherine Patricia Routledge ( born Merseyside, 1929) perform on stage at The Lowry, Manchester, in an acclaimed production of Alan Bennett's thirty year old " Office Suite". ** ( see end of post)
This is a production brimming with Bennett's droll ( one could say) dangerously accurate view of northern people, from his vantage at a certain time, in a certain place. It's also a tasty helping of Bennett's appreciation of the commonplace, his crisp observations on Life and Its ( I think) Wonderful Ordinariness...
It's a double bill, comprising two short plays; these are " A visit from Miss Prothero" and " Green Forms".
The first play involves a bumptious lady, Miss P, who visits the home of a retired office colleague, the recently widowed Mr Dodsworth ( Bennett's names are always EXACTLY right, aren't they?). And the purpose of Miss P's visit is to subtly inform Mr D how very well his successor is doing, thus shattering the quiet contentment of poor Mr D's gentle life..
The second play " Green Forms" is set in an office where two women bicker and giggle, plot and scheme. And gradually, we see again the shattering of lives, the abrupt ending of two women's illusions...
In his writing, Bennett delights in The Northern Woman; he has vast experience of them ( see, for example, " Untold Stories" Faber and Faber, 2005) beginning with his mother, the indefatigable Lillian, and a trio of aunts ( Kathleen, Lemira, Eveline) Many of his characters are drawn from these people who passed noiselessly ( or otherwise) through his Leeds childhood, his youth...
And yesterday we saw an actress who epitomises these people, who thrills her audience with them ( thrills Bennett with them too, I imagine) ..whose acting UNDERSTANDS them...
** AND yes, I'm wondering...
WHAT did Bennett make of Ricky Gervais's "take" on secretaries and bosses and files and 9-5 Life?
Bennett and Gervais: 2 vastly different views of office work: its characters, its dialogues, its settings......its routines, pettiness, jealousies, its laughter, its stifling comfiness, its sheer sexiness...
Both productions were special to their eras, both were of their own time.
BUT both, I think, were successful because they captured the same timeless glimpses which different generations recognised, which resonated with us all...
Patricia Routledge appears at The Lowry until the end of the week.

13 Comments:

Blogger herhimnbryn said...

She is good at this isn't she? Likewise the late Thora Hird ( who induced tears in me when she was acting in some of AB's monologues). I thoroughly enjoyed reading both parts of Bennett's Autobiography. Towards the end of Untold Stories, I was rationing myself to two pages a day...I didn't want it to finish.

4:08 am  
Blogger Lee said...

Jan have you got an email address? Mine is available at my profile.

4:36 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Sounds really good, an appetising review.
I couldn't watch 'The Office', though my friend who lent me the DVD said I should have persevered; I just found it too bleak and discomforting a view of human life, I know that sounds precious. Alan Bennett's monologues also discomforted, and wrung the heart somehow, but they're worth it.
I also have a soft spot for the Dead Ringers (radio) take on AB having tea with Thora Hird, '...as she reached for the last macarooon.'!

5:32 pm  
Blogger Cathy said...

I love both Bennett and Gervais. Their observation and characters are just so spot on, mixing comedy with pathos.

8:09 pm  
Anonymous Dick Jones said...

As Beckett & Pinter both had/have actors who seem to have been brought into being specifically to interpret their work, so does Alan Bennett. Thora Hird has been mentioned & in some important respects Patricia Routledge would seem to be her natural successor.

In some quarters Bennett is seen as a fundamentally cosy playwright - a sort of Betjeman of the boards. He is capable of being uncomfortably abrasive at times & I suspect that he might be quite a fan of 'The Office'.

11:26 pm  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I adore Patricia Routledge & she & Alan Bennet are a dramatic match made in literary heaven!

9:32 am  
Blogger Marianne said...

Sounds absolutely wonderful Jan. Lucky you for being there.

Thank you for the tagging facts you put in my box. If you post them on your page, then lots of people can read them. It's just a game and optional of course, but turns into quite an interesting exercise if you give it a go. I think the idea is to nominate 5 others to do their tagging facts, if you so wish. Or not as the case may be. I'm a bit vague, but having been tagged twice decided to give it a go. Not sure where it originated, or maybe it just goes round and round.

10:57 am  
Blogger Stay at home dad said...

And a thoroughly nice man to boot. I am more of the Gervais camp, but look forward to exploring Bennett more.

11:32 am  
Blogger I Beatrice said...

I loved that, Jan! Thank you so much. I have always had this idea that Patricia Routledge would be splendid for the part of 'Pamela' in my blog.....

And while talking of Alan Bennett, I can't help mentioning this. It has nothing whatever to add to your tale of course, but it anmused me greatly just the same.

I was reading a piece by Clive James (he has a website) on (I think) memorable lines from the movies. There were all the usuals, "Play it again Sam" and that sort of thing - but there was also the title "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

To which Alan Bennett is said wittily to have replied: "Me; I'm afraid of Virginia Woolf."

How wonderfully unassuming and droll he is! But who'd have thought he'd have reason to be afraid of Virginia though....?

Thanks for visiting me btw. Always, just when one is feeling most discouraged about blogging, someone comes along and says something really nice!

1:21 pm  
Anonymous kate long said...

That sounds great! Did you go with Kath P?

It was a student of mine who first introduced me to Bennett, and I immediately loved the way he used idiom and dialect in his characters' voices. Later on I taught 'Talking Heads' to sixth formers, and those monologues always went down a storm. I still think that moment in 'A Cream Cracker Under the Settee', where she goes, 'The midwife said he wasn't fit to be called anything and had we any newspaper' is one of the saddest lines I've ever read.

2:00 pm  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Thanks fo rthis - I am a big fan of Mrs Bucket!

12:23 pm  
Anonymous marly said...

Drat, wish I'd been there! And I like the picture of the schoolgirl with her great thoughts and poetry.

3:08 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Thankyou everyone for yor thoughtful comments.
A bit busy but will attempt to come back and answer properly...

7:45 pm  

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