Review: Alison Steadman in conversation with Fiona Lindsay

Alison Steadman

Alison Steadman - Credit: Archant

Joanna Adams was at the Stratford Literary Festival to listen in to Fiona Lindsay interviewing Alison Steadman.

When asked to review Alison Steadman In Conversation with Fiona Lindsay, her performance in two key roles popped up in my mind and stayed there - the truly monstrous Beverly of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and the supremely ghastly Mrs Bennet in the wet t-shirt television version of Pride and Prejudice. Two very memorable “in your face” characters, so which one were we going to meet?

Instead, the full house audience in Stratford’s wonderful new ArtHouse auditorium were told to expect a perfectly normal lady who collected corks and old toothpaste tube caps. Nothing strange about her at all, but simply a very accomplished actress, devoted to her craft and the deserved winner of an OBE as well as Olivier and National Society of Film Critics awards.

Miss Steadman was obviously ever an actress and clever mimic. A child who spoke to her dollies in a Scottish accent and was regularly asked by her mum to “Do us a turn, Alison” inevitably grew up fully involving herself in roles (I hear their voices in my head), whether as Romeo in a school production or in her first big break as Candice Marie (she had quite a lot of me in it) in Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, the 1976 Play for Today for the BBC. But, it’s still the monstrous Beverly which we best remember and, of which, she seems most proud. To the audience’s delight she left her chair to demonstrate what Alan Bennett famously described as “having shoulders like a lifeguard and a walk to match” explaining that Beverly really wanted to be a model, but ended up selling make-up in Debenhams instead. From here on she really engaged us the audience, and held us.

Despite her real gift for improvisation (how she made us laugh with the phone down her cleavage and her funny expressions) she is equally professional at sticking to the script, citing the award winning Gavin and Stacey as having “very tight writing” and a series that really shows the innate warmth and love within the family. On her way to national treasurehood, there is much more to come from this lady, and we must watch out for “Burn, Burn, Burn” and the theatre tour of “Therese Raquin”.

A hugely appreciated 75 minutes ended with questions such as the very genuine “Why are you loved so much?” (no answer needed by this audience!) and a hysterical joke which she obviously adored telling, but there is so much more that we would like to know. Not the personal stuff. - there was none of that and it was clearly not in the script. I drove home knowing much more about the creator of the monstrous Beverly, but I was still thinking of Mrs Bennet and wondering why she was never mentioned.