Writer: Matthew Lombardo
Director: Rich Bun and Bex Phillips
Reviewer: James Garrington
Tea at Five is a biography – albeit a very abridged one – of the late Katharine Hepburn, narrated as though by Hepburn herself, and based on her memoirs Me: Stories of My Life. It was first performed in America in 2002, came to the UK in 2012 and has now been revived by the Old Joint Stock specifically to take to Edinburgh. This Birmingham production is essentially a preview of the Edinburgh show. As a result, it has been designed to run for just 75 minutes.
The intimate Old Joint Stock Theatre is ideal for this sort of play, set as it is in a room in Hepburn’s family home at the Fenwick estate. The set is minimal, but highly effective, consisting of basically a chair and tables, and attention has clearly been paid to detail – the flowers, the telephone, the photographs, all have their place and all have their purpose.
Meg Lloyd plays Hepburn, and keeps the audience entranced throughout the performance. This is no small feat, given the incredibly uncomfortably cramped seating, and the fact that for everyone sat any further back than the front row some portions of the show are almost invisible. Lloyd, though, gives us a first-rate performance which draws the audience in, and makes them feel as though they are a group of friends in the room with her as she chats about her life and career, and she develops an excellent rapport and connection with the audience, making eye contact with each and every one of them as she is talking.
The play also requires her to age considerably, and in very little time, and this she does brilliantly. During the first part she is 31, and waiting for the phone call that will tell her she has been cast in Gone With the Wind. She is young, dynamic and vivacious, prowling around the stage as she talks about her hopes and dreams. Fast forward some forty years and in only one or two minutes she has changed into an older version of herself, talking now about her loves and the highs and lows of her career. During the brief time Lloyd has been offstage, she has transformed; she has changed costume, and has greyed hair, but those are not the real cause of the transformation. It is, rather, the way she inhabits her character that is responsible. Her moves are stiff and awkward, she has the voice of an older woman. Even the words she now uses seem different, and full credit to Matthew Lombardo on an excellent script, full of dry humour, wistful moments and witty put-downs.
Directors Rich Bun and Bex Phillips have made the most of the script and the venue to deliver an excellent production in which Lloyd excels as Hepburn.
Runs until 27th July 2013