The Chalk Garden | Pre-Show Talk | Chichester Festival Theatre

Kate Mosse: Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the pre-show talk for “The Chalk Garden” on this most unbelievable and beautiful set. Alan Strachan: It is lovely isn’t it? Kate: You will know I’m Kate Mosse. I’m a novelist and playwright and the biographer of CFT. It is my enormous pleasure to be allowed to be let loose on the creative people who create the wonderful festival put together by Daniel Evans and Rachel Tackley. Welcome back to the brilliant and wonderful Alan Strachan. Alan: It’s lovely to be here. I like this theatre I also like the Minerva. So it’s a delight to be back. Kate: You’re probably going to tell me off for being gushy straightaway before we start. But many of you will know that the previous directors of the theatre, Jonathan Church and Alan Finch, always said that you and indeed Penelope Keith, agreeing to do”Entertaining Angels” in 2006 was, in their minds, one of the things that helped them save the theatre. So I think that deserves a round of applause if nothing else. (Applause). Alan: It was a difficult time. Now I’ve got a theatre I know how difficult it is. The financial situation – I had no idea until after the event how desperate it was. Kate: Sneaky programming! Alan: It was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. I had no idea. If I’d known that, the pressure on the show would have been awful. We would have probably had an awful time doing it. Because there was no pressure, “Entertaining Angels”, which was a new play turned out to be to be great fun. It did remarkably well at the box office. Then they got quite a lot of income subsequently when it went on tour for a very long time. I just remember one incident on that on the very first performance. I’d gone to have a pre-show calming drink at The Bell. As I was coming back everyone was running around. I thought “Oh God, what’s happened, some crisis?” Jonathan was running and Alan was running. I said “What’s the problem?” and they said “We can’t findthe House Full boards.” (Laughter). The show has sold out but we can’t find them. They haven’t been used for three years. Nobody knows where they are. So that got it off to quite a good start. They did find them. Kate: They needed them for the whole run in fact. Alan: More or less. They were very dusty but they gave them a polish. So that was fun. Penny and I later came back to the Minerva which was also very enjoyable. We did a solo play which she’d never done. Not the easiest of things to do you know. An hour and three quarters about “Mrs Pat”. The redoubtable Mrs Patrick Campbell. That was a completely different kind of challenge. To fill a stage for two hours (counting the interval). That was huge fun as well. This one, although much more of a challenge, has also, so far, been very enjoyable. Kate: We’re thrilled to have “The Dream Team”, you and Penelope Keith. Also some other wonderful people, obviously Amanda Root and other people who know the stage. One of the things that our wonderful audiences always like to know is how a particular play gets chosen and gets put into the repertory. Did Daniel approach you? Did you want to do this? Alan: It was the other way around on this one. I wrote to Penny about something, I’ve completely forgotten what. It was about 18 months ago. She wrote back and we both said we must do something else. I suggested “The Chalk Garden” to her. I didn’t know whether she’d ever seen the play or whether she knew it. It turned out both were the case. I suggested we approach a commercial producer. It was Penny who said that Chichester would be ideal. I agreed so I rang Daniel. By complete synchronicity it turned out that he had the play in mind for this year. But, and there was a big “but”, at that point because the play was optioned. Somebody had bought an option, paid quite a large sum of money in order to have the exclusive rights to produce it on Broadway with another Dame. It was going to be Dame, Angela Lansbury playing Mrs St Maugham, the matriarch at the centre of the play. He held on to the rights for quite a long time. It was announced. I think they even started casting some of the other parts. It was all set to go and then Angela Lansbury (this is my understanding of it), (and I think it’s the authentic version), she had a change of heart. She was told she’d have to do eight performances a week in order to make it financially viable. Even at Broadway prices. Kate: It’s a huge role. Alan: It’s a very challenging role. It’s vocally, physically and emotionally quite demanding. I think in the end, having talked to her family, she thought it’s just not really wise to take on this task. So she said “no” at which point the rights became available. Daniel, like a greyhound, leaped out of the slips and was able to buy the rights. It had to be approved by Enid Bagnold’s (surprisingly still alive) youngest son. He’s called Dominic Jones. Kate: She only died in 1981 I think. Alan: I think you’re right it was early eighties. She was 90 and had been born in late 1880s. A remarkable woman. I think the family have always been very careful to look after her estate as well as they possibly could. So they wanted to be sure that the play would be well cast. Once they realised it was Chichester they realised that was probably likely to be the case. So he got the rights. But at one point it seemed as if we weren’t going to be able to do it. Kate: Which is such a shame when there was the sense of this great chemistry. Alan: Of course Broadway producers are very ferocious animals and they were thinking of the money. I think they were thinking they would make a huge amount of money on Broadway with Angela Lansbury. They would have done! She’s a remarkably fine actress. Maybe they thought they might bring it to London as well. Kate: Well I think we definitely are the beneficiaries of this. Enid Bagnold is probably best known for her famous novel “National Velvet”. Alan: Yes, I suppose that is the best known. “The Chalk Garden” is inspired by her house in Rottingdean. Alan: Most certainly, yes. Kate: Tell us a little bit about the play. Alan: She had written plays. None had achieved anything like major success. One or two were downright flops. She had to play on Broadway in 1951. It was called “Gertie”, not a very good title. “Gertie” was about a very ambitious young woman. She was ambitious really only for fame. She wanted fame. She was hungry to be a celebrity and be successful which Enid Bagnold was. She was desperately keen to be recognised. From a very early age she just wanted to be somebody special. When Gertie failed she was really in a very low state indeed. She came back to Rottingdean to this extraordinary house. It was the weekend house for her and her husband who was head of Reuters. He was Sir Roderick Jones. Kate: Yes, she was Lady Jones. Alan: She was Lady Jones. She liked the title “Lady” but she didn’t like the name “Jones”. (Laughter.) She felt that was a bit down market. She was sitting at home brooding. She wasn’t very happy. She had four children. She loved all the business to do with children and the relationships. You’ll see this in the play. The whole thing about nurturing and rearing children really mattered to her. She felt that was a kind of immortality. Anyway, she had to find a companion/governess for her youngest grandchild who was called Pandora. She placed an advertisement, I presume, in the Brighton and Hove Argus. She got a lot of replies. She was fascinated by one particular applicant. She was described as an aquiline woman rather like an eagle and didn’t talk very much. Bagnold didn’t ask for any references and took this woman on. The most remarkable thing about this woman was that she hardly spoke. I don’t know what instruction she was giving the granddaughter. Probably very little. Anyway she stayed and then one day a great friend of the Joneses arrived. They mixed in very high circles, judges, politicians everybody. A judge called Justice Henry Cassels came to lunch at Rottingdean. The governess was having lunch with the granddaughter. Bagnold noticed that the woman was almost hypnotically fascinated by the judge. He was was talking about current cases at the Old Bailey. I think he included a murder case. She was clearly absolutely fascinated and that gave her the seed for the play. It was transformed completely. You know as well, you probably take some incidents from reality into your novels. They get changed and transformed. Kate: It’s the spark. Alan: Exactly. The growth is entirely yours. That was very much the case with this play . There is an applicant for a job as governess/companion. There is a judge who comes to lunch. I’m not going to say any more because it will spoil it. That was what gave her the idea for the play. It had, like all her plays, a great deal of her rather special dialogue. She loved words. I think she must have been like a master jeweler, spreading her diamonds out on a black piece of cloth Selecting them and seeing how one matched with the other. She loved the sound of words, the shapes they made. She called them her plums. She liked the plums of her speeches. Indeed she used to hang her plums on a washing line across her writing room. When she lost inspiration she would just reach for a plum and stick it in! It wasn’t a good idea, I wouldn’t recommend it. What happened quite often was that the play became clotted. There was just too much there. Too many words. Her speeches got rather bloated. When she sent the play to her agent it was rejected by London producers. This is why it was first done in America, it was first done on Broadway in 1955. She wrote it in 1954. By various happenstances it came into the hands of a remarkable woman as formidable as Enid Bagnold. It was a wonderful match in many ways because they struck real sparks off each other. The woman was called Irene Mayer Selznick. She was the daughter of one Hollywood mogul, Louis B Mayer and ex-wife of another, David O Selznick. When she divorced Selznick she was a woman of great energy with an enormous appetite for doing things. She went to New York, she wanted to get away from the world of Hollywood. She wanted to carve out a career for herself and she became a Broadway producer. She struck what they call “pay dirt” with her very first production. It was a little number called “A Streetcar named Desire”. (Laughter) She was riding high. She did a play called “Bell, Book and Candle” which was also quite successful. So she was really doing well. In a very short space of time she’d established herself as a leading Broadway producer. There was a lot of resentment from the old guard. They resented that she’d been so successful so quickly and that she was a woman.. There were hardly any female producers either in the West End or on Broadway in those days. She offended people too, by her brusqueness. She was no respecter of persons but then neither was Enid Bagnold. Anyway they met and for some reason something in the play, it might have been the mother-daughter relationship, because Irene Selznick had had a fraught relationship with her own mother. but she really did respond to the play. She said I’m coming over to England to work on it with you. She didn’t write a line of the play, she was the first to say:- “I wrote none of it”. But what she did do was bully, cajole, persuade, coax all the verbs you want to use, to shape the play, because it was a bit formless I gather. The original version doesn’t exist sadly so I have no idea exactly what her criticisms were. Basically they were to trim it of it’s excess verbiage and make the plot tighter and frankly a little bit more believable. She worked for nearly 18 months. She would fly over regularly from New York where she lived in great luxury in the Pure Hotel. She would come to the falling down house in Rottingdean where pictures would fall off the walls in the middle of the night and you had to go 100 yards to the loo. Not the luxury she was used to. They worked on the play. She would come down from the Dorchester which is where she stayed in London to Rottingdean on a Friday afternoon and go back on the Brighton Belle on a Monday morning. They worked and worked over those weekends and gradually the play took shape. Then it developed into a real saga. Kate: I like the fact that none of this counts as a saga! Alan: The original production was like Murphy’s Law. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. First of all they couldn’t cast it. Nobody, but nobody, wanted to be in it. Kate: Why is that? Alan: They were frightened of it I think. It’s a play that’s like no other. I can’t compare it to anything. Some people say it’s very Chekhovian which it sort of is. Some people say it’s a bit like Wilde. Some of the language sort of is. None of these comparisons really makes any sense. It’s it’s own being. Kate: It is a very unusual play. Alan: It is very unusual. Kate: It’s kind of perfect in itself. Alan: Absolutely. But it’s what it is. People were confused by it and wondered whether it was meant to be funny. Some wondered if it was just the work of a slightly deranged woman. Nobody could quite work it out. It was new. There hadn’t been anything like it. Kate: It was the time of Rattigan and all of those sorts of writers. Alan: Yes. Ironically, in this country, it was produced three weeks before “Look back in anger”. Kate: Oh was it? Alan: Things were on the cusp of change. Anyway in New York everything went wrong. Eventually Gladys Cooper was coaxed into playing Mrs St Maugham, the part Penelope Keith is now playing. Bagnold had desperately wanted Edith Evans but she turned it down. So they ended up with Gladys Cooper. I think she must have been touching 70 and the character is meant to be in her seventies. She was still very conscious that she had been possibly one of the great beauties of the 20s and 30s. She didn’t like some of the references to age in the play. I’m not going to tell you what the line is, but Mrs St Maugham’s first line she took huge exception to. She said:- “I can’t say this, my public won’t accept it.” Enid Bagnold, who didn’t give a toss about Gladys Cooper’s public, just wanted her lines to be heard. They fought like cat and dog. On the first night in New York, Gladys Cooper just left them out, she cut them. Kate: Did she? She just started the play where she wanted? Alan: She started the play four lines later. There was nothing anybody could do. (Laughter) Too late, too late. The director of the first production was a remarkable man. Some of you will have heard of him, he was called George Cukor, a famous film director. He had been sacked by David O Selznick from “Gone with the Wind” after only two weeks. He directed some extraordinary movies; David Copperfield, Anna Karenina, Camille with Garbo. Anyway he hadn’t directed a play for a very long time and was very rusty. He’d also just come off a movie. He hadn’t prepared terribly well. Irene Selznik then followed her husband by sacking him. He had about three weeks of rehearsal then he was got rid of. They had terrible trouble finding somebody else. If a play loses it’s director, everyone thinks something’s wrong with the play. They’re usually right. But they did find another director, he took over and things were a bit better. Then everybody started quarreling with Cecil Beaton the designer. Kate: He did set and costume. Alan: He did set and costumes. I obviously didn’t see it but I gather the costumes were all right. But the set, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of it, the set looked like something out of “House and Garden”. Like a house on Long Island in the 1950s.
Everything was white. Absolutely virgin white with a lot of beautiful rattan furniture. This is meant to be a house that’s been lived in for 40 years. Kate: In Sussex. Alan: In Rottingdean. The set was disastrous. It looked like a Noel Coward play was about to take place in it. But somehow, despite all the people walking out, shouting at each other (just like most plays really) they really did have an awful lot of arguments but it opened successfully. The New York critics decided that this was a very special play. As soon as that all happened, the leading London producer of the time, Hugh Beaumont, immediately said:- “Yes, I want it.” Having turned it down originally. Then Bagnold did get what she wanted which was Edith Evans did play Mrs St Maugham. Not a bad cast. Peggy Ashcroft played the applicant for the governess part. Felix Elmer played the judge. So it was a pretty good cast and it was very, very successful. I didn’t see that one either but it’s had a few revivals but not many. Kate: Did Enid Bagnold keep diaries or are there biographies? Do you know how she felt about this? Alan: She didn’t like the first production. She really hated it because it was too busy. Kate: So the fact it was successful wasn’t enough for her? Alan: Oh she was delighted it was successful. She made a great deal of money out of it and she liked the shekels did Dame Enid. Well she wasn’t a dame. I mustn’t keep forgetting to call her a dame. She was rather cross that she wasn’t a dame. She didn’t like the fact that people moved on the stage. Ideally Enid Bagnold would have liked her plays to be staged with people sitting like us in a row saying her beautiful lines with a set of screens behind them. Kate: Nothing to detract from her glory! Alan: Exactly. She’s right. Words are very important but you can’t do it as if it’s a recital. There’s a story about a director of a later play. It’s a play that Margaret Leighton was in. She was in the stalls screaming:- “They’re moving, too much they’re moving too much, stop the moving.” The director, who wasn’t George Cukor. stopped and said:- “Look Enid (I think it was Miss Bagnold after that) you know this is not a recital”. She snapped back:- “No but it’s not a skating rink either.” She just wanted the focus to be on her “plums” I’m afraid. She was marginally happier with the London production. She had the actress of her dreams which was Dame Edith Evans. Although they fell out violently on a later play but she was happy with her performance in “The Chalk Garden”. I think, but don’t know as it’s not recorded anywhere, but I’d be very surprised if she hadn’t been happy with Dame Peggy Ashcroft’s work. It was directed by John Gielgud who coped very well with her. Although he did occasionally have to stand outside Edith Evans’ dressing-room barring the way to stop her getting in to give her notes. She was no respecter of persons. If she felt an actor was miss-reading one of her lines she would just barge up and tell them. Kate: Nobody wants a living writer doing that. Alan: Some behave themselves but she just didn’t care. The words were what mattered. She wasn’t interested in the visual side. She didn’t like what Cecil Beaton did on Broadway. In London she took a violent exception to the West End design. Beaton wasn’t used because he’d been such trouble in the States. In London she didn’t like the set either. She said it was “common”. “Common”, it was very common biggest insult she could possibly make. I don’t think she would say this was “common”. Kate: No! This, of course, is the wonderful Simon Higlett who is such a friend to Chichester. He has done so many wonderful things here. Alan: I’ve worked with him too and he understands this space. You probably won’t notice (or maybe you have) but this is a first in a way for Chichester. The actual real stage, the hexagon. That isn’t here, that’s gone for this play. We are lower than we normally are. We both felt very strongly that it just brings the play in. Kate: It’s because of the intimacy. Alan: Yes, more into what we call in Scotland “the body of the kirk”. It just gets it more “shared”. I think that happens with most plays here. One of the reasons I like an open stage or theatre-in-the-round is that the audience and the actors are sort of in the same space. They’re in the same room, they’re breathing the same air and I just find an intimacy in that. This is a big house and it does seat over a thousand, but I always feel if the set design is good enough… (it will be intimate). A lot of designers try and pretend this is really a proscenium stage. It isn’t, there’s no point in trying to make it into a proscenium stage. Whenever a designer does that I always feel it never really works. The stage just doesn’t have its right dynamic. But if the set is right and if the acting has the right kind of focus and intention, then it doesn’t seem a big theatre. Kate: When I watched some of your technical rehearsal it did feel like a house in Sussex of that period. There are doors in different places. Alan: Gosh yes and funny little nooks. Kate: Exactly. It was rather wonderful. Often you would understand that we were being brought in to “snoop” sometimes. We could make our own judgments about those looks that were going between the characters. Alan: When Simon and I first met when we knew we’d be doing the play one always has these rather vague initial ideas. We don’t talk about colour of the set or furniture at a first meeting. The basic brief was there are nine characters in the play but I would rather like it if there could be ten. The tenth character being the room. I really do think he has done that. He went to Rottingdean. Kate: Did he? Was it Burne-Jones’ house? Alan: It was originally Burne-Jones’ then after that it was inhabited by another artist. He was William Nicholson. He lived there for quite a long time as well. I’ve seen the house but didn’t go with Simon. I couldn’t as I was back in Scotland but the current owner couldn’t have been more helpful. They showed him round and he was able to wander all over it. He was allowed into the garden as well. He
found that very helpful. He took lots and lots of photographs. It couldn’t obviously be the same as it was in her day. It’s currently for sale. If you’ve got a spare £3,950,000 you can buy it. So you’ll be down there tomorrow! It’s a remarkable place but of course over the years it’s changed. Now it’s like something out of the Farrow and Ball catalogue. Everything is perfect which it certainly wasn’t in Enid Bagnold’s day. Kate: This is such a beautiful set and you will see it looking down at it. When you started rehearsing and I know you were rehearsing in London, you have obviously a wonderful company that you put together, not least the great, very popular in Chichester, Penny Keith. When do you start introducing all of these additional props and bits and pieces? There’s a lot here. When does that come in? Alan: Quite late. We were lucky because Chichester has such an extensive furniture and props store. The London rehearsal room was luckily quite big. It was the RSC rehearsal room in Clapham. It is big so you can keep stuff at one end of the room. Most of it’s been recovered. We had this piece with a different cover. We had that chaise and that one. Kate: The way people get up and down is quite specific. Alan: It is. We had to lose them at some points because they needed work. We had to lower the back of that chaise for instance. Otherwise the side seats would be rather ill-served. We didn’t have the real props but we had things that could easily stand in for them. When we came to Chichester we rehearsed for two weeks in the Stephen Pimlott room. Gradually we got more and more of the real props. That was a help for this play. Even things like a bulb or plant catalogue of the period. It was much more helpful than looking at an old copy of Woman’s Own. Kate: There’s a wonderful article by the biographer and writer Anne Sebba in the programme. It’s a wonderful article about her (Enid Bagnold). A lot of the interpretation about this play talks about it being one of the great plays about mother-daughter relationships. Do you think that is why it is seen as this really distinct piece of work? How would you define it? Alan: Actually I think there’s a play about dysfunctional families. That’s what an awful lot of the best plays are. The late Tyrone Guthrie was a great, great director. He had a theory that all the best plays from “Oedipus” through to “Look Back in Anger” were fundamentally family plays. There was a family relationship somewhere. Think of Chekhov and Shakespeare. There’s a kernel of truth there. I think this play, even if your family isn’t from a household that has a huge house in London and also a huge house in Rottingdean, and very few people have both, it doesn’t matter. You can still relate to the psychological problems of this family. I think what came over in the play the more we rehearsed it, was that an awful lot of people in it are damaged in some way. Damaged people tend to respond to each other. They tend to recognise something in each other’s psyche that may be a bit flawed. I think that’s true of this play. There’s a lovely part which probably only someone like Enid Bagnold could have written. There’s a manservant. I’m not going to tell much but I am going to tell you he had a previous life. I’m not going to tell you what it was because it comes out in the play. He’s in a curious position of being a dependent. But he’s also fiercely independent. He has his own passionate beliefs. He’s absolutely dependent on the woman who has taken him in literally. That character who’s called Maitland is very kind to the granddaughter. She is the sort of the fulcrum of the play. The actual plot revolves around the granddaughter. I think that’s full of a rather compassionate insight. It’s quite a tough play. That’s the other thing that came out in rehearsal. A lot of people think it’s faintly elegiac, faintly Chekhovian, melancholy. There are elements of that. There’s a passage towards the end when you do get the sense of a world vanishing and a different kind of society taking over.
But it’s just touched in. It’s not a great big author’s message or anything. But there’s something else we all spotted the more we worked on it. The people in it are quite tough-minded. I was reading something by an American writer and dramatist who knew Bagnall quite well. A dramatist called S N Behrman, forgotten now sadly but he wrote a lot of very successful plays in America. He didn’t have much luck in this country. It was the 30s and 40s and 50s. He adapted a very early novel by Enid Bagnold. It was called Serena Blandish. It is a bit like Zuleika Dobson. It’s about a very posh and beautiful girl trying to land a husband. The subtitle is “the difficulty of getting married”. Anyway he loved the book so he adapted it. It was quite successful on Broadway and in London. Vivien Leigh played Serena Blandish. He said something very interesting about Bagnold. He said the first thing he was drawn to was her extraordinary glittering language. The second thing, which balanced the language was her tough-minded, hard awareness of the diamond sharp realities of life. I thought that was rather a shrewd thing to say. Despite her life of privilege – she grew up in a relatively wealthy household – she had to find her own way, she had to work. She wasn’t a spoiled debutante. But she was drawn into a rather glittering circle. During the war she was perfectly prepared to keep her family self-sufficient by keeping a cow and mucking out. Kate: Didn’t she drive ambulances? Alan: In the First World War she drove an ambulance. In the Second World War she and her great friend Diana Cooper were virtually self-sufficient. They had dairy produce and pigs. There’s a famous photograph of her mucking out the byre wearing a rubber apron and wellies. She was perfectly prepared to get her hands dirty. Kate: Now, I’m very interested in her as well as the work. A quick last question from me before we take a couple from the floor. As well as being a wonderful director and other things in theatre – you are also a writer and biographer. Alan: Biographer, yes. Kate: I think that’s a writer! Alan: I don’t write fiction, I only do biographies. Kate: You do the truth. I make stuff up. That’s a different thing. But you do very different things. You as the director have this cast of people. You have all the creative team. You’re putting something out publicly. You’re living a public life while you’re being that creator. Then you go back to your desk and you’re in archives and researching. What is it that draws you back to writing? Is it to escape the public stuff? No, I don’t think it’s that. I’ve been doing this for an awfully long time. Not the writing so much but the theatre. This may sound sentimental but I’ve been very lucky with mentors. People who were extraordinarily helpful and kind to me when I was starting out. All I’d like to do when I do my biographies is write about people I knew. Kate: Hence Vivien Leigh? Alan: No, I didn’t know Vivien Leigh. I saw her act several times. I worked with a lot of people who did know her. They have told me a great deal about her. I’ve worked with Michael Redgrave. He was very influential on me. Just about his whole approach to the world of the theatre. There’s a producer called Michael Codron. He gave me a play in the West End when I didn’t know anything. I was so green I was cabbage looking. I was in my early 20s but he must have spotted something. He gave me a show which really got me started properly. Anyway, I suppose what I’m trying to do if it doesn’t sound too poncey is put something back and try and recall people who would probably otherwise be forgotten. I know Vivien Leigh won’t be forgotten because of “Gone with the Wind” and “Streetcar Named Desire” on film. but because of her marriage to Olivier she
was very overshadowed as a theatre performer. I was lucky enough to see her three times in the theatre at a very impressionable age. A really impressionable age when you are affected by what you see and what you read. There was something about her. I don’t do the kind of work she did but there was something about her that just interested me. The more I read about her the more interested I became. I realised that her archive had become available at the V&A. It had been catalogued and was available for me to consult. I thought if this archive was good I would write a book It was good. It was very rich. A lot of the book comes from the archive. So, no, I don’t think it’s to escape anything. I just enjoy it. It is very different but that’s part of the delight of doing it. It’s lovely to come back to the theatre. One thing that’s been lovely about this play
is that, most unusually in a play of nine characters, seven of them are women. Apart from me and Simon Higlett, the entire production team is women. This is so unusual. You don’t often get that. I’ve done a few all-male plays and they’re dead boring. (Laughter) That’s one of the reasons it’s been so enjoyable. Kate: We have time for a couple of questions. Audience Member: I’m wording this very carefully. There’s a question Mrs. St Maugham asks the governess towards the end of the play. She gets a response but not an answer. It’s left very ambiguous. I think that’s one of the master strokes of this play. I did wonder if in rehearsals if you’d made up your minds either way on that one? Kate: Well that’s an interesting question. Alan. No. I know what I think. To answer your question – I do not know what Amanda Root thinks. We left that quite deliberately open. The actor has to know. The director has to have at least an idea. But we don’t have to agree. Kate: Interesting. Will it change do you think? Alan: No, I don’t think so. I think Amanda knows exactly what she did or didn’t do. I can’t say any more. Kate: In the post-show that is the sort of question we could indeed ask her. Another question? Audience Member: I just felt that your description of the whole scenario behind this play and the characters, there’s a germ of a play in that. I thought it was quite extraordinary. Alan: Oh gosh yes. I don’t know who would play Gladys Cooper though. Kate: That’s tempting to even think about. Kate: Can I ask a question because we’re nearly out of time? With a play that is actually so well constructed, and now you’ve explained how it is and the cleverness of there being ambiguity, even though you come out feeling satisfied at the end of it, when you move a play like that from the rehearsal room onto the stage and you are suddenly faced with the challenge of this wonderful space, how much does it root itself down once you’re in here? How much change is there? Alan: It always breathes a different air for a bit. When you come in from the rehearsal room everything seems different somehow. Even if you’re coming in to a proscenium stage when the floor is exactly the dimensions you worked to. Oddly enough on this one I think it’s something to do with the fact that the set, apart from anything else, is very welcoming. It’s a set that feels good under the actors’ feet. Actors are quite rightly keen to make sure the stage supports them well. A lot of actors can’t work unless they’ve got the right shoes. I can sort of understand that. Beryl Read couldn’t find a character until she’d found the shoes. She was in despair sometimes until she found the pair of shoes that fitted the character. Also it was so like the world that is described in the play. I think they felt at home. Some sets you walk on to, and you’ve seen the model of course and you’ve seen pictures that the designer may have drawn, but sometimes you move from the rehearsal room onto the stage and it feels very alien. That happens quite often in fact, but not here. It really didn’t. We had spent a lot of time on the staging,
bearing in mind that there are people in the side seats. They can’t be neglected. The dynamic of how it’s staged, surprisingly, didn’t change too much. Often you have to completely change the staging when a scene doesn’t quite work. There’s been a little bit of that inevitably. There was one scene in particular that I knew I hadn’t got right in rehearsal. I thought it will sort itself out on stage and it did. But I still had to re rehearse it to get it absolutely right. But no, this time round it wasn’t too tricky. Kate: It is wonderful to have you back. Alan: It’s a pleasure. I hope I’ll be back again Kate: I’m sure you will. Alan: You never know. This might be my swan song. Kate: I doubt that very much. We wish you the best of luck for the Press Night. Ladies and Gentlemen, for now. could you please thank biographer and director Alan Strachan. (Applause)

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