on stage in
Amazing Patricia Routledge
never stops working and for the greatest pleasure of all her fans, she is
now touring the United Kingdom in Bennett's double bill "Office Suite".
Acclaimed and multi award winner British Writer Alan Bennett wrote this play
especially for Patricia Routledge. It was first seen on TV in 1978 and the
pair worked together again many times after in "A Woman Of No
Importance" (1982), Talking heads" (1987) and "Talking Heads 2"
This time, "Office Suite" directed by Edward Kemp is not a monologue but a
dialogue where characters talk about various subjects.
In the first Play "A Visit From Miss
Protheroe", A retired man, Mr Dodsworth (Edward Petherbridge) receives an unexpected visit
from former office colleague
Miss Prothero (Patricia Routledge), who shakes his world by telling him all
about the changes that have
taken place in the
firm since he left.
In the second part "Green Forms",
Colleagues Doris (Janet Dale) and Doreen (Patricia Routledge) are at their
desk and chat about rubber plants and artificial hips when Doroth Binns
(Carole Steet) from the Newport Pagnell Office announces some drastic
changes, threatening them of redundancy.
April 12-May 12 2007
May 14-19 2007
May 21-26 2007
May 28-June 2 2007
Richmond upon Thames
June 4-9 2007
June 11-16 2007
June 18-23 2007
The Brochure, The theatre
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The Theatre Royal,
A starry Chichester season kicks off with
Patricia Routledge in a pair of Alan Bennett plays first seen on TV in 1978.
If that sounds cosily reassuring, one can only say that Bennett offers a
mordant view not just of office politics but of the way our lives are
dominated by the rhythms of work.
You see this in classic form in A Visit
from Miss Prothero: a Chekhovian gem in which the titular heroine invades
the blissful retirement of her old boss, Mr Dodsworth, and draws him back
into a world of office upheaval. It is a beautifully wrought piece in which
Miss Prothero, having started out as a crashing bore, turns into a bad-news
messenger to whom Dodsworth pathetically clings. But the play also says
something painfully true about resistance to change and the naive belief
that a lifetime's devotion to a job implies a meaningful legacy.
Routledge invests the invasive heroine
with a wonderful mix of emotional solitude and social disapproval. And there
is a silvery melancholy about Edward Petherbridge's Dodsworth as he moves
from a new-found pleasure in pottery to horror at news of his successor's
Work also dominates Green Forms, in which
two women discover that their cushy niche in a big firm is about to be
invaded by a zealous new broom. The piece is full of wry observation and
offers an uncannily prophetic portrait of the devastating impact of Mrs
Thatcher - whom the newcomer physically resembles - on British life.
Without wishing to seem ageist, neither
Janet Dale as the selfish Doris nor Routledge as the amiable Doreen quite
suggest women in mid-career living in fear of redundancy. If the piece
survives, it is largely as a reminder that, in the late 1970s, the concept
of job security was about to become as dated as foxtrots and fur stoles.
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 20.04.07
In his intro to the text of the two
30-year-old television plays that comprise Office Suite, Alan Bennett
wrote of his delight in northern women, a class of person emphatically not
southerners with funny accents: “They’ve come down by a separate genetic
route and like the Galápagos turtles
(whom some of them resemble) developed their own
characteristics and attitudes. Hopes are to be dashed, expectations not to
be realised, because that’s the way God, who speaks with a southern accent,
has arranged things.”
You don’t need to look farther than the
opener to the double bill, A Visit from Miss Prothero, to know what
Bennett meant. Patricia Routledge created the title character in 1978 and
brilliantly recreates her here. Can you imagine your house being invaded one
quiet afternoon by a sour-faced busybody whose every other sentence is a
reproach or a complaint, whether she’s implying that you didn’t answer the
doorbell quickly enough, or explaining that she won’t remove her awful green
hat “because I don’t want another sinus do”, or declaring that Britain can’t
produce decent trusses any more?
That’s what happens to Edward
Petherbridge’s genial Mr Dodsworth, who has happily retired from the company
that is Miss Prothero’s habitat and obsession. His visitor’s true agenda is
to tell him that his office successor runs a tougher, better ship than he
did and, in a transition that doesn’t quite work, she manages to leave him
shocked, upset and in her power.
But the interplay that precedes this is
hilarious. There’s hardly a line that doesn’t make you gulp at the nerve of
this prissy, narrow, grudging, fatalistic, bossy, appallingly self-confident
woman — and sympathise not only with Mr Prothero but with the likes of Mr
Teasdale, who behaved “like a wild beast” on the company outing, upsetting
Mrs Teasdale — “and she has only one kidney!”
Nobody could or will write better than
Bennett about the tiny, claustrophobic worlds that even today are probably
inhabited by people called Mr Skidmore, Miss Brunskill, Mr Titmus and Mrs
Henstridge. The second play, Green Forms, is also full of what he
calls their “explosive banalities”, and this time the stakes are higher.
Routledge’s Doreen, who resents being Grade 4 in Precepts and Invoices, and
Janet Dale’s Doris, who is a proud Grade 3, gradually realise that the
company isn’t just downsizing but is bringing the dangerously efficient Miss
Binns into their office. It’s a problem, because their days consist of
gossiping, procrastinating, and warring with Personnel, which keeps
snitching their washbasin plugs.
But the piece is looser and less funny
than Miss Prothero, maybe because Routledge is not merely no monster
but nicer than grouchy Dale, whose mother has a plastic hip and has spent
the night on the commode after being fed too much Milk Tray by the vicar.
Yet I didn’t want it to end either: not while Bennett was patrolling his
Yorkshire homeland with such droll inciveness.
There's nothing like the
opening of the Chichester Festival season to remind you that you've survived
another winter. As I rolled along the sun-lit rural roads of Surrey and
Sussex, feeling like Mr Toad and gratefully admiring this year's
spectacularly abundant blossom, I realised I was as happy as a pernickety
theatre critic is ever likely to feel.
Jonathan Church, in his
second season as artistic director, has come up with a highly promising
programme that includes David Suchet in a Vatican conspiracy thriller;
Patrick Stewart, fresh from triumph with the RSC, playing Macbeth and
Malvolio; and a revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical, Babes in Arms.
He kicks off, however, with
the return of Chichester favourite Patricia Routledge (surely overdue her
DBE by now) in a double-bill of plays by Alan Bennett. The entire run is
already sold out but the production embarks on a national tour after its
A Visit from Miss Prothero
and Green Forms were first seen on television in 1978, both starring
Routledge and directed by Stephen Frears, who recently enjoyed such success
with The Queen starring Helen Mirren. Watching these beautifully written
pieces, which combine sly wit with sudden glimpses of pain and an alert eye
for the shifting mood of the times, one mourns a whole lost culture in
British broadcasting, which valued the single play and was prepared to put
quality above ratings.
It has to be admitted that
Miss Routledge is pushing her luck a little. As Miss Prothero, a busybody
office worker who calls on a recently retired colleague and ruthlessly
destroys his happiness, she is described in the stage directions as "a
middle-aged woman". In Green Forms, a clever, Kafkaesque detective story set
in the precepts and invoices department of a large firm, Bennett pictured
the character of Doreen as "a married lady in her thirties".
I hope it isn't too
ungallant of me to observe that Miss Routledge is now a well-preserved 78.
This matters particularly in Green Forms, when Doreen is thrown into a tizzy
by the threat of redundancy. In fact, at Miss Routledge's age, her character
would have been happily drawing her pension for nearly 20 years.
Yet somehow the redoubtable
Routledge gets away with it. No one is better at bringing out every nuance
of Bennett's dialogue, superficially banal and homely yet with a lethal
sharpness and precision that make him the Oscar Wilde of lower-middle-class
In 40 minutes in A Visit
from Miss Prothero,
character entirely undermines a former colleague by telling him that his
life's work in office systems has been ruthlessly discarded by his
successor. There is a watchful malevolence in this performance, a
mean-spirited ability to make even apparently kindly meant words sting, that
comes close to evil. And Edward Petherbridge's broken devastation and
despair at the end isn't far removed from the dramatic territory of Samuel
In contrast, Green Forms
creates a wonderfully comic picture of two women who spend their lives busy
doing almost nothing in a backwater of a large corporation. Once again,
however, the stilettos come out, when Doris (Janet Dale) pulls rank on
Doreen (Routledge) as redundancies loom. The way Routledge then uses her
character's married status to make her spinster colleague feel inferior is a
small masterclass in the art of calculated cruelty, while the whole play
evocatively captures the atmosphere of drift and decay of the late 1970s.
The piece was first
broadcast just a few months before Margaret Thatcher came to power and
changed England out of recognition, a fact Bennett eerily anticipated in a
chilling final tableau, staged with panache by this double bill's excellent
director, Edward Kemp. What a great start to the Chichester season.
I went to see Alan Bennett's Office Suite
in Chichester this week; and very enjoyable it was too. As I watched
Patricia Routledge and Janet Dale shuffling folders back and forth in the
second of the two plays, Green Forms, I was struck by a sudden thought: you
don't often see real work being done on stage these days. I'm like the man
who loved work so much he could sit and look at it for hours;
and I think it's high time we brought hard
labour back to the stage where it belongs. The "work-play" was an acknowledged genre
that had its heyday from the late 1950s to the mid-70s. One of the most
staggering examples, presented appropriately enough by Theatre Workshop in
1957, was Henry Chapman's You Won't Always Be On Top. This showed a group of
builders working on the construction of a house on a stage. In an effort to
make it totally realistic, Joan Littlewood sent her actors off to a local
building site to learn the art of bricklaying. Where Chapman led, others
followed. Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen took us behind the scenes of a
mass-catering restaurant. David Rudkin's Afore Night Come showed us pears
being picked and stacked in a rustic orchard. And, famously, David Storey's
The Contractor involved the nightly erection and dismantling of a wedding
marquee on stage.
All these plays had something important in
common. They realised that work itself is dramatic: that it has its own
natural rhythm, and that people often reveal themselves through the jobs
they do. In Afore Night Come, Rudkin showed the hatred of outsiders that
bounds together a group of pieceworkers in the Midlands. And Storey's play
brilliantly brought out not just the tensions within the tent-erectors but
also their quasi-feudal relationship with the boss. This was the British
class system in action, and also a riveting piece of physical theatre.
But why has the work-play all but disappeared from our stages? There are
several reasons. One is that, in the age of the graduate-playwright, there
are fewer dramatists who have done real manual toil. Chapman,
Wesker and Storey were all writing from
bitter experience. Even Rudkin had, I know, done a holiday job in a Midlands
pear orchard. But today's playwrights move from higher education straight
into theatre, often without having worked in the wider world. Work itself
has also changed. The kind of office Alan Bennett shows, where gossip and
chat is as important as actual labour, has to a large extent been replaced
by the monastic world of computers. And a newspaper drama like The Front
Page would be difficult to write today since everyone is silently communing
Work occasionally still surfaces. David
Eldridge's Market Boy, for instantly, showed stallholders peddling their
wares in Romford Market. Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange displayed doctors
squabbling over a difficult psychiatric case. But it's a sign of just how
middle-class our drama has become that we rarely see actual physical labour
on stage. Which is a great pity because work is not only an enthralling
spectacle, but also displays group dynamics and says a lot about our
still-surviving class system. Wesker, who was a master of the genre, once
said that theatre is a place where you go to SEE things happening. So, as a
born bourgeois aisle-squatter, I would cry: "Bring back the work-play!"
Wouldn't you agree?
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 20.04.07
Routledge and Chichester Festival Theatre's audiences go together like
tinned peaches and Coronation milk. Even so it marks a retrograde step for
artistic director Jonathan Church to launch his second Chichester season
with Miss Routledge starring in a double bill of what must be Alan Bennett's
only example of third-rate comedy.
audiences are prone to hide their bald and silver heads in the sands of the
past. By resuscitating Office Suite Mr Church encourages just such an
fairly plotless, purposeless, almost stand-still comedies, A Visit from Miss
Prothero and the interminable Green Forms - originally called Doris and
Doreen - were written for television and broadcast almost 30 years ago.
aged uninterestingly. They shine scant light on clerical and administrative
office-workers, on dreary people better left to carry on in unmocked
obscurity, but at whom the author incites us to laugh in a compassionate but
never less than superior fashion.
characters do not even enjoy the comic or linguistic quirkiness Bennett
bestows upon his best northern curios.
Routledge dons a hideous green coat and green hat as Miss Prothero. She
steps into the faded, middle-England reception room of Edward Petherbridge's
widowed Mr Dodsworth, happily retired from adminstrative management to the
pleasures of pottery and cooking.
it appears that Routledge's vinegary, hypochondriacal Miss Prothero has come
to irritate Dodsworth and bore us by bringing him unsolicited office gossip.
aspiration, though, is to spread a little malice by stripping Dodsworth of
any belief that his office procedures have endured. Bennett never makes this
revelation dramatic, while Miss Routledge beams ill-will and comic cuts at
rather low wattage upon Petherbridge's benign Dodsworth.
Forms, with computerisation and fear of unions looming on the political
horizon, is trapped in dead-end office routines.
Routledge's Doreen, attired in a pink/purple dress that resemble a cottage
garden in full bloom, and Janet Dale's Doris, semi-unskilled employees,
avoid work and gossip.
beset by fears of redundancy and a workhorse arriving in the office, no
dramatic life flares. A little humorous reparti lightens the gloom. Edward
Kemp's production swings from atmospheric direction to genuflection at the
Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard, 19.04.07
If Alan Bennett has a muse, it is surely
the remarkably versatile actress Patricia Routledge. She talks to Jasper
'One is always interested in what's coming out
of his pen, but I wouldn't dream of saying, 'Are you busy on something now?'
" Thus Patricia Routledge on her long friendship with her fellow
septuagenarian, Alan Bennett.
"I remember years ago, I looked at the clock
and I thought, now I'd better not disturb, he'll be in the grasp of the
muse. Then I thought, five to 12, he might need a little break, so I thought
I'd risk it. So I rang him and he said, 'Oh, 'ow lovely to hear a human
voice. I've been staring at a blank piece of paper all morning."
Does Bennett have such a
thing as a muse? If it's anyone it's Routledge, a sharp-eyed interpreter of
his well-spoken Northern women. He has been writing for her ever since two
BBC plays starring Routledge (and directed by Stephen Frears) were broadcast
at either end of 1978.
Thirty years on, at
Routledge's instigation, A Visit From Miss Prothero and Doris and Doreen
have now been resurrected as Office Suite.
After a sold-out run at
Chichester, where Routledge has been returning to roost since 1969, they are
going on tour.
At a meeting with the
tour's producers, Bennett expressed his worries about their transfer across
three decades from screen to stage.
"He was very reluctant for
them to be done. After about half an hour of the meeting, I turned to him
and I said, 'Mr Bennett, you make me feel I should apologise for even
suggesting that we do these plays.' And he just laughed. He didn't want them
to seem like period pieces. But they are."
At the time, they were seen
as contemporary accounts of office life in the dog days of the Callaghan
era. Retrospectively, a bit like Chekhov's plays, they are portraits of a
fatted culture about to be swept away by a coming revolution.
In one of them, Routledge
plays the busybody of a family firm who, paying a call on a contentedly
retired colleague, thoughtlessly updates him on the changes which have
annihilated all evidence of his 30-year contribution to the company.
In the other, renamed Green
Forms, she is the junior of a pair of indolent low-grade paper-pushers. She
cheerfully identifies the key to Doreen. "She's a bit thick, isn't she?"
Miss Prothero is altogether
more complicated. "I found it very difficult to understand Miss Prothero
when I first did it. I said to Alan after a few days' rehearsal, 'I don't
believe that such a woman exists who could be so insensitive.' And Alan
said, 'Oh, it's coming out all right.' I said, 'That's not enough for me. I
must know what I'm doing.' "
He told her of an aunt who
would visit on Saturday afternoons and disrupt a contented family atmosphere
by unburdening herself of office gossip involving people they didn't know.
"When she'd gone away, that
whole feeling of unity was destroyed. I realised that I knew a spinster aunt
who always found the dark underbelly of things. And of course we all know
people like that."
Bennett wrote the plays for
her in spite of a false start to their relationship when, five years
earlier, she turned down a part opposite Alec Guinness in Habeas Corpus. In
his programme note to Office Suite, Bennett describes her refusal as "a
"I don't think he has got
over it," says Routledge. "I didn't like it. I'd been in hospital and had
reason to be quite grateful to a surgeon or two. I thought, that's the end
"We did have a very
distinguished theatre manager shouting down the telephone to my agent,
'Doesn't she realise this is career assassination?' But such is the
largeness of Alan's spirit that he came back again."
Their kindred spirit is
based in large part on background. Routledge's upbringing in Birkenhead
stressed the value of education and self-improvement.
In 1982, Bennett wrote for
her the first of his television monologues, A Woman of No Importance, about
another office fusspot whose belief in her own popularity turns out to be
built on sand. "I always say I was the guinea pig."
Six years later came a
whole series of Talking Heads, in which Routledge played a compulsive
letter-writer whose malign habit culminates in a redemptive spell at Her
Then came a second series
in 1998. In Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, her character is sucked into a
bizarre form of prostitution.
"Very kinky," she confides.
"I didn't really enjoy it. I didn't understand it, deep down."
Bennett's writing is part
of a solid Northern spine in Routledge's television career stretching from
Coronation Street and Z Cars in the early '60s to her starring roles in
Keeping Up Appearances and Hetty Wainthrop Investigates in the '90s.
There's been much more
variety in her theatre career. She won a Tony in Darling of the Day in 1968
for a performance which the New York Times critic described as "the most
spectacular, most scrumptious, most embraceable musical comedy debut since
Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence came to this country".
She paid several more
visits to New York, culminating in 1976 in the role of eight First Ladies in
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which united the composer of West Side Story and
the lyricist of My Fair Lady.
"It was the mis-marriage of
the century. It was tragic. Part of the disaster was that Alan Jay Lerner
was writing a musical. Leonard Bernstein was writing an opera for posterity,
and never the twain did meet. You thought, these people will get it right.
"There was wonderful stuff
in it, but I think Alan Jay Lerner was frightened of Lenny. But I wouldn't
have missed it for anything in the world. We opened on a Tuesday night in
New York and closed the following Saturday. It was that quick. Lenny never
got over it."
It was Bernstein's last
original score for Broadway, but he and Routledge remained friends.
In the mid-'80s, shortly
after her wonderful turn in Noises Off as a diva playing a charlady, she did
a season with the RSC.
"In those days, you were
interviewed at the end of the season by the artistic director, and I think
you were supposed to say, 'I'm the greatest thing that's ever happened to
the RSC, and I would like to play this, this and this next season.' I was
brought up not to push, really. I'd wait to be asked. And I think my
attitude was slightly despised, may I say?"