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April 07. Patricia Routledge on stage in

Office Suite

 

 

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" (1998). 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.

Tour dates

 

April 12-May 12 2007

Minerva. Chichester

 

May 14-19 2007

Theatre Royal. Bath 

 

May 21-26 2007

Theatre Royal. Plymouth 

 

May 28-June 2 2007

Richmond Theatre. Richmond upon Thames

 

June 4-9 2007

The Lowry. Salford

 

June 11-16 2007

Theatre Royal. Glasgow

 

June 18-23 2007

Malvern Theatre. Malvern

 

The Brochure, The theatre

 

Click on the brochure bellow to see the other side or click here to see the full animated brochure.

 

 

The Theatre Royal, Glasgow 

The stage

Various reviews

 

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 computerised reforms.

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


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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.

 

 

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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 Chichester run.

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 Northern gentility.

In 40 minutes in A Visit from Miss Prothero,

Routledge's titular 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 Beckett.

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.

Charles Spencer, Telegraph, 20.04.07

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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 with screens.

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

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Patricia 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.

Chichester 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 ostrich process.

These 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.

They have 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.

These characters do not even enjoy the comic or linguistic quirkiness Bennett bestows upon his best northern curios.

Miss 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.

At first it appears that Routledge's vinegary, hypochondriacal Miss Prothero has come to irritate Dodsworth and bore us by bringing him unsolicited office gossip.

Her real 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.

Green Forms, with computerisation and fear of unions looming on the political horizon, is trapped in dead-end office routines.

Miss 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.

Even when 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 Bennett-Routledge shrine.

 

Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard,  19.04.07

 

 

 

Interview

 

If Alan Bennett has a muse, it is surely the remarkably versatile actress Patricia Routledge. She talks to Jasper Rees

 

'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 shame".

"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 of that.

"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 Majesty's pleasure.

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?"

Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph 09.05.07