Annabel Leventon stars as Cornelia Scott alongside Fiona Marr as Grace Lancaster in Something Unspoken, one play in The King’s Head Theatre’s Southern Belles double bill. The two ground-breaking one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, will headline the King’s Head Theatre’s 2019 Queer Season, running from 24 July to 24 August.
Southern Belles, which also includes And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens, is directed by Jamie Armitage, co-director of the multi Olivier nominated musical Six.
Annabel Leventon previously performed at the King’s Head Theatre in 1976 in Spokesong by Stewart Parker, which later transferred into the West End.
You’re starring in Something Unspoken at The King’s Head Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
It’s an extraordinary little play about two women, a grand Southern dame and her secretary companion of fifteen years. In an era when the love ‘that dare not speak its name’ cannot even be thought of, let alone mentioned. Matters come to a crunch with the pressures of the outside world. It’s funny and heart-breaking.
How would you describe your character and what do you most like about her?
She’s rich, vain, insensitive, thin-skinned, untouchable, fierce and very, very human. A wonderful complex world to inhabit.
What is it you enjoy most about Tennessee Williams’ writing?
Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His language is precise, colourful and challenging, his characters larger than life and twice as dramatic. He writes for women from the heart, it seems, one of the very few men who can invest a woman with real depth, humour and pathos. And his dialogue is glorious. It’ll be like being on a rollercoaster every night.
The play was first performed in 1958, why do you think it’s still relevant today?
Queen Victoria wouldn’t have a law against lesbians, because she couldn’t believe any existed. In the fifties, here as well as America, anything not the norm was regarded with prejudice and horror. Anyone at school in the fifties will remember how conformist you were meant to be and how hard it was to step out of line.
Even now, people everywhere (and specially women) are still having to fight for their right to be heard, especially outside big cities. The world that was opening up in the sixties, a great broadening of minds and acceptance of others, seems in many ways to be going backwards now. We have to celebrate differences – and keep doing so. This play speaks up for people who are different, as we all must.
What are you most looking forward to about working with Jamie Armitage?
I know and admire his mother, Carolyn Allen who, as Opera Tottie, does the same cabaret circuit that I do. Meeting Jamie was like coming home, we felt like old friends right away. Working with him is proving immensely rewarding. He has such a clear view of the play we know we’re in good hands. I am now dying to see his first West End show, SIX, now playing, though I daren’t till I’ve learnt my lines, which are MANY!
How does it feel to be back performing at the King’s Head?
It’s a long time since I played Spokesong here and have huge fondness for the King’s Head, the first pub theatre in London. We began only for four weeks. Spokeson ran for eight months in 1976 – 7 and could still be playing if it hadn’t transferred to the West End.
I was so lucky, it was set in Belfast and I didn’t have a Northern Irish accent when I auditioned, so they took a chance on me. Luckily, the peace women from Belfast were broadcasting all the time, so I caught the flavour and soon I was being called Mrs Paisley.
Single with no dependants at the time, I practically lived in the King’s Head through the heat-wave summer of ’76 and through to the following spring. I’ll never forget my time there. The theatre has smartened up – a bit – but it’s still a real back room of a pub, with better seats and lights than we had then, but otherwise small and lovely for audiences and actors alike, it’s so intimate. It hasn’t changed in any essential way. I’m proud to be back.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Something Unspoken?
It’s a rarity, you will never have seen anything like it. It’s full of humour, seething with drama underneath and has the special touch that the best Tennessee Williams plays always have – Streetcar Named Desire, Suddenly Last Summer, and like them has wonderful, meaty, demanding parts for women. It sparkles like new after over sixty years. Don’t miss it!