Thursday, 7 July 2011

Beverley, Pamela or Candice-Marie?

I was very excited last night to secure a ticket (thanks, Paul!) to see one of my fave actresses, Miss Alison Steadman in conversation live on stage at The Arts Theatre. Part of a series of similar one-off events called Face to Face (which will feature later in the year such luminaries as Raymond Blanc and Michael Parkinson!), our host and interviewer was broadcaster Fiona Lindsay, a lady with a charming manner about her but an unfortunately disconcerting slightly frozen expression...

Needless to say, the hour-long chat flew by. Miss Steadman is a fascinating interviewee, recounting anecdotes from her long and varied career on stage and screen - from Nuts in May in 1976 to her recent "Madam Arcati" in the Apollo Theatre production of Blithe Spirit. She looks fab for a woman of almost 65, too!

A natural performer as a young child in Liverpool, Miss Steadman told the hilarious tale of how she spooked the living daylights out of her parents with the careful application of some scarlet toothpaste dribbles ("it looked just like blood - I thought, how wonderful - it made me look like I'd been hit"). She adored the likes of Beryl Reid and Hylda Baker, mimicking their accents and mannerisms as well as those of neighbours and friends, and the family often called upon her to "do a turn" when there was nothing on the telly!

Obviously destined to go to drama school, she nevertheless did her share of more pedestrian jobs - but when she finally left her post in the probation service to head for the bright lights, the staff all clubbed together to buy all the books and materials she would need. Her chosen school was East 15 in Essex - with its close associations to the legendary Joan Littlewood, and its "method" teaching in the style of Stanislavsky - and from that point on, she admitted she was never destined to go down the "classical acting" route. At her audition she was asked not to recite Shakespeare but to impersonate Cassius Clay!

Thus came her associations with the mavericks of theatre, Mike Leigh (her now ex-husband) and Dennis Potter (for whom she expressed the utmost admiration - "there's no-one else out there who can do what he did"), and the quirky off-the-wall characters for which she is most famous. When questioned about the most famous of all, "Beverley" from Abigail's Party, Miss Steadman admitted she hated her for a while - afraid of being typecast, a dread she said was the reason why she would never take a part in soap operas - but has adjusted to the fact that it was her masterful creation of that social-climbing bitch which kept her firmly embedded in the hearts of several generations of audiences.

In real life, she says she is more like "Candice-Marie" (from Nuts in May) than Beverley - she is fascinated by nature, even spending hours watching ants or spiders through a magnifying glass. As Fiona Lindsay commented, and Miss Steadman admitted, she applies the same observational precision and attention to detail to her characters too - the smallest overheard conversation or behaviour will spark her interest! At this point, it became clear why she was strangely drawn to working that other great observer of people Alan Bennett (yet I wondered why she didn't work more with his obvious successor Victoria Wood).

Nowadays, it is for another classic character that she gets recognised in the street - "Pamela" in Gavin and Stacey (a series I must admit has passed us completely by here at Dolores Delargo Towers). The audience rippled with approval when she treated us to some quotes (in character) and anecdotes about that particular role. There was probably not enough time to cover the whole gamut of roles for which we love her - such as the tarty "Madame de Plonge" in Let Them Eat Cake, Adrian Mole's mum, the dry-as-dust narrator of Grumpy Old Women or Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice - but this was a rewarding and delightful evening nonetheless.

Viva la Steadman!

Nuts In May:

Alison Steadman on IMDB


  1. This sounds like a truly brilliant evening.

    You should try watching some of Gavin & Stacey - especially the first series.

    It is very good TV.


  2. I dare say, like so many things, we may catch up with it eventually. To our eternal shame it was only an area fault with Virgin cable that led us to finally finish watching series 2 of Beautiful People, and it's only within the last year we got round to watching Black Books... We're not great TV series-watchers. Jx


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