Interview With… Annabel Leventon

The actress chatted to us about starring in Something Unspoken as part of the Southern Belles at the King’s Head Theatre.

(c)Nick Rutter.

Hi Annabel, thanks for talking to me. Could you explain what ‘Something Unspoken’ is about? It’s an extraordinary play about two Southern women in the fifties. One is an imperious, high- ranking spinster, hanging on to her status like grim death, while the other is her long term secretary/companion of fifteen years, in an era when anything remotely unconventional caused horror and outrage. We meet them on a day when matters of the heart and of her position in the community, come to a head.

How does it feel to be coming back to the King’s Head Theatre? It’s like coming back home. It’s been a bit spruced up compared with the charming chaos of Dan Crawford’s time, but not too much, the toilet is still broken and the staff are still delightful. It’s also still a great theatre space, you can see every thought and every twitch. And that’s just the cast seeing the audience…A small space like this, the first pub theatre in London transforms the audience/actor relationship. Playing on a space like the Olivier stage or the Shaftesbury Theatre, there’s quite a void between cast and audience that has to be overcome. Here, we’re all in it together. It’s great. And then you get to meet everyone afterwards in the bar. Altogether more intimate and real.

I worked at the Kings Head over forty years ago in a wonderful play about Belfast and bicycles called Spokesong, which ran for over eight months and then transferred to the West End, and I finally saw my name in lights above the title. But being in Islington in the pub theatre, I was happier by far. We all loved had a wonderful time there.

What can audiences expect from this production? Emotional fireworks! It’s a very brave play, Tennessee Williams confronts issues that nobody, but nobody, talked about then. As it’s him, you know you’ll get glorious language, humour, wit, and intensity. He’s a master. And maybe it’ll open up a few things that still aren’t much spoken of today.

What was it that made you want to be involved with this production? The chance to do some Tennessee Williams, first and foremost. I’ve seen so many of his plays – and films – but this is the first time I’ve been able to have a go myself. Secondly, it’s a terrific part, the kind you rarely get the opportunity to play. And because I lived and worked in the States in the sixties, I seize the chance to do Americans whenever I can. Recently I did On Golden Pond, which is another huge part and hugely rewarding. But nothing beats the challenge of doing Tennessee Williams, he’s one of the real greats. Thirdly, it turns out when I went to the King’s Head to meet the director, Jamie Armitage, that I know and admire his mother, a fantastic cabaret artist called Carolyn Allen, or Opera Tottie, and we had so many people in common that I felt I belonged at once. The chance to work with him was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s always about the team and I’d met and been charmed by our producer, Michelle Barnette already.

Could you tell me a bit more about your character in the play? Cornelia Scott is a Southern Belle in the grand tradition of Scarlett O’Hara and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. She’s rich, vain, insensitive, overbearing, charming, thin-skinned, absurd and very, very proud. It might as well be restoration comedy. It is in a way, as large and bold and complex a world, with tragedy mixed in with the absurdities. Over this one day, she finds out a lot about herself. One hopes the knowledge hasn’t come too late.

How have you found working on the production so far? Well, for a one-act play, it feels as if we have a mountain to climb emotionally. Jamie wanted us to learn the piece before rehearsals started and I have a huge amount to say, so it was hard. But of course he was quite right. We need all the rehearsal time to focus on what’s really happening, instead of fumbling about with scripts, not knowing what’s coming next. Finding our way into the heart of the South, with its past glories and then the devastating Civil War, has been very interesting. It’s a rollercoaster to work on, charting our way through an emotional jungle. Luckily we hare having a lot of fun along the way. Laughter keeps us going. It feels like a big play, although it’s just two of us and only one act. It’s going to be glorious to do once we get an audience. I can’t wait!

By Emma Clarendon

Something Unspoken will be performed alongside  And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens in Southern Belles at the King’s Head Theatre from the 24th July until the 24th August.  

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