Culture: Secret Life of Precious Prunella; Theatre One Is Not the Loneliest Number for Prunella Scales as She Stars in Gertrude's Secret, a Collection of Monologues Being Staged at the Alex This Weekend. She Talked to Alison Jones about Her Latest Role

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Byline: Alison Jones

Performing a theatrical monologue can be a lonely business. It is just a single actor on stage with no other characters to react to, to bounce dialogue off or to cover for them if they forget a line.

"You talk to the audience. They are the other person but they don't answer back very often," says Prunella Scales, who will be delivering her monologue in Gertrude's Secret at the Alexandra Theatre on Sunday.

Not that Gertrude's Secret is in any way a one woman show. It has a cast of up to a dozen who each deliver a short piece intended to either amuse, shock or provoke.

"You do get that lovely company feeling," says Prunella. "We spend a lot of time in each other's dressing rooms."

She admits she loves the excitement of working in live theatre.

"We are so lucky to be able to work in so many different skills. But I just wish regional theatre was better funded.

"I am getting on my soapbox now but we pay the least per capita towards performing arts in this country than any other in the European Union except Portugal, or that was the case a few years ago."

Gertrude's Secret has been written by Benedick West, who is "a second cousin once removed by marriage" to its headliner.

"Benedick has a very good psychological sense and a great sense of speech and character. They are great fun to do".

Benedick is the latest in what is becoming something of a West theatrical dynasty.

Prunella is married to the actor Timothy West, whose father was an actor, as was Prunella's mother. Their son is the actor and director Samuel West.

When she started out, Prunella, who was born Prunella Illingworth in 1932, said she felt she had to stay "shtum" about her artistic roots because people were looking for a more ordinary, working class credibility.

"Our boys have been giving us (acting) notes since they were little, which is actually very helpful."

Apart from Sam they also have a son Joseph and a step daughter, however, only Sam has carried on in the "business".

Joseph studied French and trained as a primary teacher but now lives with his family in France, working as a translator, after becoming disenchanted with classroom sizes and endless 5lling out of reports.

Though she and Timothy are in their 70s they remain in great demand as performers though unlike, her husband of 45 years, Prunella admits she is "not a touring freak". …