by Jennifer Selway.
Three stars ***
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 6 August 2017.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Sun 4pm and from 1-6 August as part of the Camden Festival Tues,Thu & Sat 7.30pm Wed & Fri 9.15pm and Sun 5pm/
Runs 80 mins No interval.
Tickets: 020 8340 3488.
Review: William Russell 23 July.
Remembering Odette and Anna
Although she is pretty well forgotten today – she died in 1986 and her films are rarely shown in television – Anne Neagle was one of the most popular British film stars of her day and a prolific stage performer in musicals. Jennifer Selway’s play was inspired by meeting Patricia Law, now 93 years old, who worked in a Mayfair beauty salon in 1949 and had Neagle, then at the height of her success, as one of her clients. Neagle was making Odette, the story of Odette Hallows, the French born British housewife who became a spy and was captured and tortured by the Nazis in Ravensbruck Concentration camp.
Odette was helping with the filming as an adviser and Neagle and she became friends. She brought her along to the salon for a course of treatment.
It was an odd friendship as was the relationship the pair struck up with the young beautician. It leaves one realising they both enjoyed, if that is the word, great fame, but for Neagle it was part of the job, for Odette Hallows it was something she had not asked for and did not want. Neagle gave an impressive performance in a film quite different from her previous successes, the light comedies Spring in Park Lane and Maytime in Mayfair in which she co-starred with Michael Wilding, a partnership the public adored.
She was not a great actress, but her director husband Herbert Willcox with whom she worked repeatedly knew how to get the best out of her and the film, widely praised, had a royal premier attended by the King and Queen.
Red Gray gives a sensitive performance as Neagle and catches to perfection the slightly clipped diction of the time as well as conveying how the actress does not quite understand the other woman’s dislike of fame or the way facts get changed in screenplays. The treatment of Odette by the Nazis is rather played down although harrowing enough because of the need not to upset audiences. Jesica Boyde as Odette needs to speak up a little – the Gatehouse stage is vast – but she conveys the sense of a woman who is still suffering from post traumatic stress, something not really recognised then, perfectly.
As Patricla Law, Charlotte Peak supports them beautifully creating a girl overawed by her celebrity clients for whom the right face cream was all that mattered and a cold sore spelled disaster for her date with a test pilot. Director John Plews handles what is the slightest of memoirs, although touching, well and for people who never knew Neagle – she ended up a Dame and a national treasure as great as any today – it is a revelation.
Jessica Boyde: Odette Hallows Churchill.
Anna Neagle: Red Gray.
Patricia Law: Charlotte Peak.
Director: John Plews.
Design: Emily Bestow.
Lighting Design: Sam Waddington.
Assistant Director: Chloe Christian.