2000. Patricia Routledge "Fifty Plus News"

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Bouquets to Routledge in 'The Importance of Being Earnest'

An interview with Patricia Routledge by Malcolm Riddle

As I mounted the grand Princess Theatre staircase to the upper foyer, I was acutely aware that I was to meet with one of the Queens of British acting, who has delighted TV audiences here with her portrayal of Hyacinth Bucket and Hettie Wainthrop, but sadly until now, yet to display her prodigious talent on stage in Australia.
Patricia Routledge, still fresh from a virtual plethora of press, radio and TV interviews, was to be found relaxing on a huge chair with crimson carpet beneath, and swathed in a large all-enveloping cape, looking to me every inch the consummate respected performer I expected to see.
I began by hinting that I might have some difficulty in posing some questions she had not already answered adinfinitum, and she laughingly agreed. I tried. This happens to be her first encounter with Wilde.
So, first up — Does she find the role of Lady Bracknell in any way daunting?
"Yes of course it’s daunting. Playing a very famous part is very daunting, because you know that the auditorium is full of people who know exactly how it should be done.
And they know every line?
"Well, they think they know every line, but they don’t know each line in the detail in which Wilde wrote it, you know — they have an approximation in their minds, I think."
This was an indication of the fine tuning I was to discover when the conversation turned to Patricia Routledge’s choice of Director for this play.
"For 20 years I have consistently refused to play Lady Bracknell until I was able to find the right director."
The right director, who would be true to the text?
"I was waiting for absolutely the right person whom I knew would have the integrity and humility to honour the text, as you said, and serve the play. You know, we’re all in service to somebody or something. First and foremost we have to find in that text what it is the writer wants to say."
And some directors don’t?
"A lot of young directors don’t. Of course it needs a certain amount of arrogance just to leave the wings and walk onto stage, but it is also important to me that director Christopher Morahan has a great sense of period and style. I think it is impertinent for some young directors to take a play that is set in the past and decide that they must make it acceptable and palatable to a modern young age group by doing the wrong things with it, and exhibiting no sense of period."
Do you then prefer stage to TV?
"To me, theatre is my great love. The real test is exchanging an imaginative experience with a live audience, and when it works, there’s nothing like it — nothing — and the memories I have from moments of great performances are from theatre, rather than television. In a TV show, the director decides what you’re going to look at, but on stage, a good director will always get the focus right, because your eye is there to take in other things as well."
Patricia Routledge is particularly pleased with the Australian cast, who have already been rehearsing in London. I venture a remark that Australian Beverly Dunn should be a tremendous Miss Prism.
"My heart lifted when I when I saw her."
Let’s talk of Shakespeare. The poetry lends itself to comedy or drama — yet timing is maybe easier in drama?
I find situation comedy is both difficult to write and a challenge to the performer; timing is essential, timing and rhythm, more so in comedy. It is music in the case of Shakespeare certainly — so we’re talking about music, three in a bar, and four in a bar, and we’re also talking about accelerando and holding back, pianamissimo and fortissimo — all part of the colour needed in comedy."
Too soon it’s time to leave Patricia Routledge, whose wealth of experience has not only earned her a reputation through her versatility and talent as a glance through her enormous repertoire attests, (from farce to musical to Shakespeare and solo performances) but she calls my attention as I leave, with a message especially for Fifty Plus readers:
"I hope that a lot of mature Fifty Plus people will come to this play and thoroughly enjoy it." (P.S. Did I say the lady is an absolute charmer?)

Melbourne Season opens Thursday 24 August Princess Theatre
Bookings at Ticketek 132 849