Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Dame Who Made It against All Odds; Theatre Legend Tells How She Beat Financial and Romantic Disaster

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Dame Who Made It against All Odds; Theatre Legend Tells How She Beat Financial and Romantic Disaster

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK CURTIS

SOME people think Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party is heavy going.

Dame Eileen Atkins considers it light relief. True, Lindsay Posner's Birmingham Rep revival of the 1958 drama, which opens at the Duchess Theatre next week, retains a pungent air of menace. But there is also black humour in the tale of young Stanley (Paul Ritter) inexplicably interrogated by two heavies in a seaside boarding house. And the part of Meg, Stanley's addled, flirtatious landlady, gives Atkins, 70, a rare chance to show off her impeccable comic timing.

With her passionate intensity and drawn face, Atkins tends to play women who are tormented, desolate. From her breakthrough parts, as the lesbian simpleton Childie in The Killing of Sister George in 1965, to her later involvement with the works and the character of Virginia Woolf, this daughter of a Tottenham gas-meter reader has apparently been cursed by lofty seriousness.

"Oh yes," says Atkins, rolling her eyes extravagantly, "On stage, I am endlessly wracked, and usually endlessly posh. Meg, by contrast, is simple, blithely unaffected by reality, and very familiar. She comes from where I come from."

She has a pert, flirty manner at odds with her years, and retains the feistiness of the self-made girl from a council estate. Atkins, who won fame as an actor and as co-conceiver with her oldest friend, Jean Marsh, of the TV series Upstairs Downstairs and House of Elliot, started out as a child dancer.

Her father was 44 when she was born, her mother, a morbidly obese seamstress and barmaid, was 46. Atkins is candid about having "nothing in common" with either parent.

A dance teacher offered to adopt her (her parents declined) and paid for her to go to a decent primary school from where she won a scholarship to Latimer Grammar. Her drama teacher, an unfrocked priest, encouraged her to act. "It was school that saved me," says Atkins.

She won a place at the Guildhall school, teaching dance to make ends meet. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.