by Anton Burge.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 7 November 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Tue, Thu, Sat 2.45pm.
Audio-described 6 Nov, 7 Nov 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 October.
A performance to savour and a fascinating glimpse of our theatre a century or so ago.
It’s a sign of how stage celebrity fades that a figure known throughout Europe in the late Victorian and Edwardian remains known only to theatre historians.
Beatrice Stella Turner took to the stage in Liverpool four years after marrying the first of several dull husbands. After the fashion of appearing respectable in a disrespected trade she acted under her married name. She kept it after Patrick Campbell’s death in 1900, but the public had none of it and she was known as Mrs Pat.
Anton Burge has crafted an informative account of her life, viewed, as usual in such pieces, from near its end. Not that Mrs Pat is anywhere near a death-bed. She’s waiting at a French railway-station as the Nazis approach, with her beloved canine Moonbeam (of necessity, a puppet). Designer Simon Higlett creates the location, though lack of a smooth surface vitiates many of the projections.
Love and marriage didn’t go together for Stella, her fondest memories being of actor-manager Johnston Forbes-Robertson and her “Joey”, George Bernard Shaw. Her rows with him are famous, but Shaw was a tricky character, and surprisingly thin-skinned, refusing to let her sell their personal correspondence when she was near broke.
She played classics, and showed understanding of Henrik Ibsen’s controversial Hedda Gabler. Shaw agreed with her esteem of Ibsen, but didn’t share her admiration of Arthur Wing Pinero, whose sub-Ibsen social tragic heroines Paula Tanqueray and Agnes Ebbsmith she enjoyed playing.
Mrs Pat would never reveal her age, though she admits to creating Shaw’s Pygmalion flower-girl Eliza Doolittle as her fifties approached. Keith’s had no such reservation, and it’s a tribute to her that she commands a solid 30-page script, word and style perfect.
This seems Mrs Pat in the manner of Ms Keith, with the familiar scepticism and disdain in voice and timing, the critique implied in a cadence. But that’s what her audiences want, while momentary variations into passionate urgency make their mark.
And, right up to the defiantly independent Exit, it is a fine display of a temperament, if at something closer to room-temperature than the explosive-sounding original.
Mrs Patrick Campbell: Penelope Keith.
Director: Alan Strachan.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Video: Simon Wainwright.
Puuppetry consultant: Toby Olié.