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The Green Room

Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre

It is not unusual to have top names appearing at the Everyman but to have two in one play at the same time is a rare privilege. Felicity Kendal and Simon Callow will be starring in “Chin-Chin” a French play by François Billetdoux, adapted by Willis Hall, in the middle of November.

The story is about two people who have something in common - the affair that exists between their spouses. Set in sophosticated 1950’s Paris, “Chin-Chin” tells of the often hilarious and ultimately disastrous effect of the affair, as the jilted couple rendezvous in a stylish apartment to set the world to rights, where they declare their independence in life, and in love… Felicity Kendal falls well and truly into the category of national treasure. She has been loved and admired since she first came to the country’s attention in “The Good Life” in 1975. I asked her if she had always wanted to be an actress.

'My parents had a theatre company in India and I was thrown on the stage as a very young child, I suppose I must have been about five years old. I was travelling with my parent’s company and they needed a changeling child in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

‘I can’t remember the first proper part I had because I was doing it before I was remembering it if that makes sense. There wasn’t one particular moment, it was just part of how I grew up. I never had a first day at school, the theatre was my school. I don’t have one particular memory, those were my normal days, it’s what I did every day.

‘It was always taken for granted that I would become an actress. My parents certainly did because I was part of the company. At one point I thought I might like to do something else but by the time I was fifteen or sixteen I finally decided that acting was what I was going to do, and that’s what I did. My life till then had been an apprenticeship and then I just went into it, it was an automatic thing. It certainly wasn’t an ambition to become an actress, it was just a job I had been trained to do and those were my qualifications.’

For many, the high-spot of the Everyman’s year is the pantomime. This year’s show, “Aladdin”, will soon be with us and those of you who revelled in the antics of Tweedy the Clown last Christmas will be pleased to hear he is back this year with a lot of the other regulars.

Tweedy is a very modern traditional clown equally at home in the circus ring or on the stage. He doesn’t wear a lot of make-up and he doesn’t wear big boots but he does have very baggy trousers and a quiff of luminous red hair, dazzling enough to brighten anyone’s day. Some of his routines are very traditional, some are very modern.

Pathos is often very much to the fore. ‘I kind of see myself a bit like an old music hall, vaudeville type comic because, although I do circus, I don’t do traditional clown type routines. I see myself more as theatre, or at least, variety. Having said that, one of my big influences was an old time clown called Grock who started in the circus but moved to music hall and became the highest paid artist of his time.

'That’s the sort of clown I see myself as. There was always a big cross-over. Max Miller dressed almost like a clown with his outrageous suits and cut off trousers and Max Wall’s act was almost pure clowning.’

I asked him if he’d always wanted to be a clown. ‘At one point I wanted to go to art school to learn animation. I always had this thing that I wanted to create a character. Then in a flash it came to me that I could be the character and then I decided I wanted to be a clown. My first job was in pantomime at Aberdeen and after that I got a job at Butlins. While I was there I was saving my money to go to the circus school in Bristol but it went bust that year. So I sent out a questionnaire to lots of clowns asking for advice. I got a reply from Zippo’s circus saying the best way to learn was to join the circus and did I want a job. So I joined them, aged 19, doing publicity, going round the schools and all that.

'During my first week the main clown got stuck in traffic and I went on for him and that was it, they kept me on.’

“Aladdin” opens at the Everyman Cheltenham on 29th November and the December edition of “The Green Room” will be dedicated to it with pictures and interviews.

There is a real treat for classical ballet lovers in the middle of November when the Russian State Ballet and Opera House returns to the Everyman. They will be presenting three of the best loved ballets on consecutive nights starting with “Swan Lake” followed by “The Nutcracker” and “Romeo & Juliet”.

I have seen this company a couple of times before and their ballets are very well done. They are performed accompanied by a thirty-piece orchestra and the lighting and design are superb.

“Swan Lake” is probably the world’s most famous and performed ballet composed, as we all know, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The story, initially in four acts, was based on Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse.

The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4th March 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Tchaikovsky’s other great ballet, “The Nutcracker”, was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on 18th December 1892. Although the original production was not a success, the twenty-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was.

Sergei Prokofiev’s more modern “Romeo & Juliet”, based on Shakespeare’s play, completes the programme. The Russian State Ballet and Opera House was founded to represent quality and passion for ballet and opera at the very highest level. Over the last 13 years they have been working with various artists from Russia and decided to incorporate only the best, all under one roof.

Unlike many other companies that travel to Europe with ballet and opera productions, they only focus on working with established theatres in the Russian Federation. These theatres have many years of experience and most importantly, they have an established spine of directors and leaders which have gone through the best artistic institutions in Russia and the former Soviet Union.