Reviewer: Alex Ramon
Singular Sensations is a series of Sunday afternoon interviews with musical theatre luminaries, held at the Charing Cross Theatre and hosted by Edward Seckerson. The inaugural season of these sessions, which began last September, has proved very popular and has so far seen appearances from Kerry Ellis, Howard Goodall, Janie Dee and John Wilson; Jenna Russell and Styles and Drewe are next on the bill. Yesterday it was the venerable Patricia Routledge’s turn to take to the stage for an afternoon of chat and some choice recordings from the archive.
To those who know her mostly from her TV work – be it as Hyacinth Bucket, Hetty Wainthrop, several of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, or Victoria Wood’s great creation, Kitty – Routledge may be a surprising choice for this particular series. But, lest we forget, she has quite a number of significant musical theatre rôles among her numerous credits, with her striking mezzo-soprano tones put to commanding use in many an operetta and in shows including Jule Styne and E.Y. Harburg’s Darling of the Day and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, for which she won a Tony and an Olivier award respectively.
These and other rôles (including her acclaimed Nettie Fowler in the National Theatre’s 1992 Carousel) formed the focus of yesterday’s discussion, which, before the chat, began with a recording of Routledge’s exquisite rendition of ‘So In Love’ from Kiss Me Kate. Following this, Routledge recalled her early musical memories of her Birkenhead childhood, speaking with palpable affection about family singalongs at home and inspirational teachers at school who helped to develop her musical gifts.
As the conversation progressed into her professional career, the chat was punctuated further by a judicious selection of archive recordings chosen by the well-informed Seckerson. Especially delightful were two witty numbers from Paul Dehn and James Bernard’s Virtue in Danger (a 1963 musical adaptation of Vanbrugh’s The Relapse) that probably sent many an audience member off in search of the CD recording of the whole score. Similarly, Routledge’s fond recollections of performing alongside Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline in Joseph Papp’s production of The Pirates of Penzance in Central Park likely set many people trawling YouTube for clips or dusting off their DVD of this production.
There’s a rather formidable, no-nonsense air to Routledge (her disdain for the sloppiness of much contemporary diction and language use was revealed at various points), but one that’s offset by wry, twinkling humour too, and her memories of her collaborations with Bernstein and Julian Slade, as well as her time under the tutelage of singing teacher Walter Grüner, yielded some lovely, funny anecdotes. This was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, and a very pleasing celebration of a vital yet often overlooked aspect of Routledge’s distinguished career.
Reviewed on 19th January 2014