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Actors who want to be liked, part four

What makes a professional performer, hired to play a part in a certain way, deliberately break the tacit deal with author and audience?

Did a friend of Keaveney’s come round and say ‘I enjoyed the show, but aren’t you horrible! I’m sorry, I don’t mean you, your character – I mean your character… but she’s really scary. A nasty person.’

There are actors who, famously, have taken the career path of playing baddies or nasties and made a fortune. Donald Pleasence (see Barry Mackenzie Holds His Own) made a speciality of playing weirdos and sinister characters. I once had a sushi with Jack Palance at the Kensington Hilton. I’d cast Holly, his daughter, a couple of times – once at the King’s Head and once in Streetcar at Norwich and she asked me if I’d read a play her dad had been offered in the West End because he couldn’t trust himself to judge its quality. Jack – as most of you will recall – was the ‘bad’ cowboy in movies like Shane.

To meet he was, of course, entirely charming and he told me he’d fallen into the pattern of being cast as the baddie in cowboy movies – and didn’t mind a bit. It was a very good living. His dark, high-cheeked, mean lean looks had turned the trick. Emlyn Williams and Anthony Hopkins have also had their moments as nasties. I admit, I confirm, I really enjoyed being Father Matthew in Jimmy McGovern’s Broken simply because it was such a superbly written scene – completely believable.

Cathpenny Twist played at a time when we were packing the King’s Head with show after show. The reviewers expressed their relief at seeing writing that was different from the conventional, safe texts that were still, largely, on offer in the West End. Every distinguished critic from all the press was coming to the King’s Head – as were agents and managements. Anna Keaveney, of course, knew this… so rather than play the part she’d accepted as intended, she corrupted her delivery so as to audition, nightly, for the kind of part she really wanted to play – wished to be considered for.

As far I know, she failed. You can’t, easily, turn the dialogue of a determined and merciless killer into the murmurings of a ‘warm-hearted, home-loving, wholesome girl next door’. The saddest thing of all, of course, was that the three other principals in the cast had to alter their responses to menaces and deadly threats and treat them half-jokingly… and for the latter part of its run, the show became a genial musical anecdote with a quirky, not very convincing political strand running through it. It had a wrecking ball driven into it, for the sake of an unscrupulous individual’s personal ambition.

Roy Fletcher: Tony Scannell
Monagh Cahoon: Nichola McAuliffe
Martin Semple: Bryan Murray
Man: Tony Doyle
Marie Kyle: Anna Keaveney
Woman: Linda Polan
Girl: Sally Hughes

To be continued…