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28th February 2009

‘Reasoning with a child is fine- if you can reach the child’s reason without destroying your own”. So says John Mason Brown the American writer and critic. Wise words, of course it’s easier if you’re a grandparent and not the parent, even easier if you’re a grandparent not seen all the time and easier yet, if you’re English and they are American. It’s the accent that does it. Who am I kidding? It all sounds fine in theory, but when two young children aged 7 and 3 are hurtling around having a rare old time, they ain’t going to listen to nobody!

This is a long winded way of saying I am here in Idaho in the US visiting the family and staying in my hundred year old little house, downtown and having a great time. It’s cold, like the UK, but mainly sunny and bright. I watched the Oscars live and was proud to have voted for every one of the five main winning categories- actors, actresses and picture. It was a very satisfying night and the actual Oscar show was more intimate and engaging than it has been in the last few years. I was astonished to see how versatile and multi- talented the gorgeous Hugh Jackman is. Nowadays actors can and have to do everything. When I was getting going, you only had to act.

I did a play some time ago called ‘The King’s Mare’, by Anita Loos, who had written the musical – “Gentleman Prefer Blonds” among others. I assumed that ‘ The Kings Mare’ was a musical comedy; it was about Henry the Eighth and Anne of Cleves, with Keith Michell playing the King and Glynis Johns playing Anne, both very talented singers.So when I was asked to play Katharine Howard, I assumed that it was a musical and they would be doing the singing.

Guess what – not only was it not a musical, but there was only one song, which I, the only one who could not sing, had to sing. I had to play the guitar, which I just about manage and sing a song to the tune of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’. It was a nerve wracking nightmare each and every performance and one occasion, I just blew it. Keith Michell, stretched to irritation beyond endurance, just stepped over it with his next line and effectively cut it. I should have been furious, but actually I was quite relieved to be off the hook for one night.

Glynis Johns broke her arm on the afternoon of the first night, clambering about our beautiful but complicated scenery. My father faithfully arrived for the first night to see an ambulance taking someone away, with whispers of “it’s one of the actresses”. He immediately assumed the worst. If we had all been called actors as we are now, instead of actors and actresses, he might not have been so alarmed, having had more choice, to determine the worst!

I appeared on UK TV twice this week by way of some early roles. Firstly in an episode of the cult classic "The Prisoner" on ITV4 as Alison in "The Schizoid Man" and on Saturday evening in "The Lion In Winter". You can find reviews of these films elsewhere on the site.

On my way back to the UK, I am going to meet up with one of the stalwarts of the Hollywood casting Directors in Los Angeles. He is a wonderful man who is one of those who genuinely loves the industry and is not in it for any other reason. He was instrumental in getting me cast as ‘Vivien Leigh – a Portrait’, by Meade Roberts in a lovely one woman play written about the last night of her life. We did it at the Atlanta Alliance Theatre for the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Gone with the Wind” in Atlanta. It was a substantial challenge and honour to play one of my great heroines. I did an impression rather than a caricature and found the one woman aspect very hard work and quite nerve wracking, but once you had got going, it was like a mini marathon, with no support. But the play is quite short and the dialogue riveting, so it worked well and I loved doing it.

Meade Roberts got most of his material from Peter Finch, who had been in love with Vivien Leigh and she with him. Though there is no doubt that the great love of her life was Laurence Olivier, who had a very difficult time with her manic depression (bi-polar) illness as is called now. I really doubt that many go through what she had to endure with early electric shock treatment and finding herself out in the street, with nothing on but a raincoat. I also got from the play that Vivien was deeply resentful that the great and good of the theatre at the time thought she was not talented and too refined to play the grittier roles. If you are as beautiful as she was, some people have a hard time taking you seriously, though goodness knows, that no-one who saw her Blanche Dubois could doubt her talent. Interestingly enough it was Blanche that probably toppled her over the edge into the manic depression. Actors can be sometimes overwhelmed by the parts they play and it has been suggested that the wonderful Heath Ledger was adversely affected by the part of the Joker in ‘Batman’. His tragic accidental death is a great loss to us all.

I don’t mean to end on a gloomy note. My son is currently building a partition in the spare room/utility room with a friend, to hide the washing machine, so everything is practical and mundane and he loves me enough to build it! How lucky and happy am I!
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