20 Questions With...Kika Markham
Date: 20 May 2002
Actress Kika Markham - who stars this week in the European premiere of Homebody/Kabul, originally written as a monologue for her by Tony Kushner - talks about working with her husband Corin Redgrave & the terrors visited on Afghanistan.
Kika Markham has been a regular on the British stage and screen since the 1960s when she was part of a young all-star cast in a modern dress adaptation of Twelfth Night at the Royal Court.
Her screen credits include Anne and Muriel, Outland, A Very British Coup, Double Dare, Poirot, A Woman in White, Touching Evil, Cracker, Wonderland and the recently aired adaptation of The Forsyte Saga.
Markham more recent London stage appearances have included Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, Bryony Lavery's A Wedding Story at Soho Theatre and the 1997 West End production of Noel Coward's Song at Twilight - co-starring with her real-life husband, Corin Redgrave, and his sister, Vanessa Redgrave - for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress.
This week, Markham heads the cast in the European premiere of Homebody/Kabul, the first major work by playwright Tony Kushner since his acclaimed Angels in America at the National Theatre in 1992. Kushner originally wrote Homebody/Kabul, which tells of an Englishwoman's life-changing journey through Afghanistan, as a monologue for Markham in 1997. It has now been expanded into a full-length, multiple cast play for Cheek by Jowl, directed by Declan Donnellan, who also directed Angels in America.
Date & place of birth
I was born in Prestbury, Cheshire, and I'd say I'm 12 going on fiftysomething. The rest is a mystery.
Lives now in...
Balham, south London
Guildhall School of Music & Drama
First big break
I suppose playing Viola in the first modern dress version of Twelfth Night at the Royal Court in the late 1960s. Although I'd done a lot of telly before then, it was the first thing I'd done in such a good theatre. Modern dress wasn't that common in those days for Shakespeare, but this was a terrific production with an amazing cast, including Dennis Waterman, Jack Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell.
Career highlights to date
Definitely a Dennis Potter play called Double Dare, which Dennis wrote around an evening I spent with him. In Poirot on TV, playing the only woman the detective ever fell in love with, which was rather a compliment. François Truffaut's 1971 film Anne and Muriel. A play called The Basement on BBC television. More recently, Noel Coward's Song at Twilight at the Gielgud, for which I received an Olivier nomination. Bryony Lavery's play A Wedding Story at Soho Theatre. And Michael Winterbottom's film Wonderland, something I was very proud to be in.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Bright Room Called Day - also written by Tony Kushner - at the Bush Theatre. That's where I originally met Tony. Real Writing by Maureen Lawrence, which was part of a season that Moving Theatre company did at Riverside Studios. I'm artistic director of Moving Theatre and my husband Corin Redgrave directed me in that production so it was very special for me. And again A Wedding Story, which is about Alzheimer's disease and very moving.
I'd have to start with Margot Leicester. Years ago, we were on a tour together when we both had young children. We shared cottages and au pairs and became very close. Also Tim Bell. He and I worked together on a TV comedy when we were young and later, when we were both middle-aged, got to play a mum and dad in a film called The Innocent - so we feel we grew up together. Andrew Hawkins who played my long-suffering husband in A Wedding Story and Jackie Clune who played my daughter in that production. I'm very fond of Jackie's style and she's so sweet, even though onstage she pretends to be hard. Last but not least, my husband Corin who I've played quite a few times with.
Annie Castledine, François Truffaut, Michael Winterbottom and Declan Donnellan. Annie because she loves playing and adventure; I felt very free to go different places with her. François for his delicacy and sense of humour; Michael because he's so laid back - they're both wonderful moviemakers. And Declan (who's directing Homebody/Kabul) because he's taught me a lifetime in five weeks and nearly banished my fear of what you might face when you go up on stage - messing up, one's own detritus, the disapproving public, those fears that stop you giving of your best. He's just amazing.
Bryony Lavery - she takes acute human issues, like Alzheimer's, and manages to make them kind of funny so that it's not sentimental but still tears you up. Tony Kushner - of contemporary writers, he's the most profound and poetic. He writes about the personal and the universal, how we interrelate and struggle to find ourselves. He asks terrifically painful and uncomfortable questions. Lots of others too - Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, Clifford Odets.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Mrs Alving in Ghosts, Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard and, though I'm probably too old, Lady Torrance in Orpheus Descending. There's still some masochism in me that makes me think I might like to be a stand-up comedian too.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Two things spring to mind. First, Harold Pinter No Man's Land at the National, a beautiful production that was also directed by Pinter. I saw it six times, because Corin was in it, but I never got tired of the acting or writing. And I thought Corin was magnificent - mysterious but real and crazy and tragic. Second, Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero at the Donmar Warehouse (now transferring to the New Ambassadors). It was totally involving and David Tennant's performance was just beautiful.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
For a start, they could fund theatre properly. Everyone is so poorly paid. I'm sick of hearing about American stars coming to London and how amazing it is that they're only getting Equity minimum wage. That's what the rest of us get all the time. There is a degree of disrespect in the media towards British artists - cynical jibing, like the Guardian always calling actors 'luvvies' as if we're all terribly superficial. It's offensive. As for the government, well, we've never had a proper arts minister and it shows.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
Quite a few things are possible. A chanteuse in a nightclub - I was trained to sing opera when I was very young - a psychiatrist, a restaurateur or a taxi driver.
The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque which he wrote after All Quiet on the Western Front and which tells what happened when the soldiers went home after the war.
Favourite holiday destination
Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland.
How did Homebody/Kabul come to be written for you?
Tony wrote the original monologue for me. In 1997, I was doing a season of monologues, called "Matters of Life and Death", for Moving Theatre at the Chelsea Centre. There were five of us performing and everyone had a piece except me. I knew Tony from Bright Room Called Day and I wondered if he had anything I could use - you know, in a drawer somewhere. He didn't but he offered to write me something.
How has it evolved into this current Cheek by Jowl production?
Tony wanted Declan to do it because he'd directed Angels in America and Declan wanted to do it with his own company, Cheek by Jowl. They put on a production first in New York, where I wasn't involved. It was staged after 11 September so people thought Tony must have written it in response to that - it's all about Afghanistan. He didn't, of course, but it still took on a huge new resonance.
What's your favourite line from Homebody/Kabul?
"Deep within, someone waits for us in the garden. She is an angel, perhaps she is Allah. She is our soul or she is our death."
What's the most incredible journey you've made in your own life?
Sitting on stage with this monologue and then arriving at the end after 60 minutes and not knowing how on earth I got there. The piece has been with me for quite a long time now and, since Tony dedicated it to me, it's difficult not to feel too bound up in it. It's been good working on it again, as a larger piece, because it's now separated out from just me. That's a huge relief.
What do you think of the current situation in Afghanistan?
I'm horrified by what the British and Americans have done with the bombing campaign. I'm very against the war. We paid the Taliban when they were useful to us and now that they're not, we're killing them and not even taking prisoners. And the people who carried out the terrorist attacks were from Saudi Arabia; I still don't see the connection with bombing Afghanistan. It hasn't helped either. It's an even worse situation now with the warlords and their atrocities. At least the Taliban didn't rape women. It's absolutely horrible - why are we in there? And where is the promised aid? Where is the reconstruction? I'm very ashamed to be British on this issue.
What are your plans for the future?
Whether I'll try developing something about Erich Maria Remarque remains to be seen. He had a fascinating life - his sister was executed by the Nazis for refusing to say "heil Hitler". I'm also considering something about Freda Lawrence. At the moment, I'm doing quite a bit of research.
- Kika Markham was speaking to Terri Paddock
Homebody/Kabul opens at the Young Vic on 22 May (previews from 10 May) and continues until 22 June 2002.