Susannah York On … Performing a MiracleDate: 7 January 2010
York trained at RADA and rose to fame starring in a number of Hollywood films in the 1960s and 70s, including Tom Jones (1963) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), the latter of which garnered her Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
More recently, she has been touring internationally with her solo show The Loves of Shakespeare’s Women (2007), and has also starred on television in Holby City, and on stage in The Wings of the Dove (UK Tour 2007) and Wuthering Heights (Birmingham Rep 2008).
As far as I know, Miracle is only the second play of Reza de Wet’s to be performed in London. She's a South African writer who writes both in English and Afrikaans. I've read three or four of her plays and I think she's wonderful - she has a marvellous lyrical quality, quite mysterious and strange. But she’s also very funny - Miracle has been described as a tragic comedy.
The story is set in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and centres on a group of actors who have seen much better days, travelling around performing in village halls, barns or wherever else they can find – on the night the play is set it's a church crypt. The leader is Dante Dupree, played by Tim Woodward, who is the sort of actor manager of the company, and then there is a senior actress called Salame, played by myself, who joined when she was very young. The other characters are a musician, a young actress and a young boy who has played Hamlet for them. On the night they're performing in the crypt a mysterious woman appears, just as they are getting ready to perform Everyman. I won’t tell you any more about that but she is a local wealthy woman who arrives and sets the cat amongst the pigeons.
Prior to the London run we performed the play in an actual church crypt, St Andrew in Holborn, which was very atmospheric. The lighting was just candles, which was beautiful, but also quite difficult to perform in because it made it harder to communicate some of the subtleties of the piece, particularly considering the size of the space. So although by bringing it into a studio we've lost some of the atmosphere, we've gained in other ways.
I'm enjoying working on Miracle very much - the company is terrific, good and strong, and Linnie Reedman the director is passionate about the piece and one can see why. Reza isn't really known out of South Africa, partly I think because she apparently doesn't like to travel herself. She's a very universal writer, and I think one would say she's been heavily influenced by Chekhov in her characterisations and examination of the ordinary. I haven't met her myself, though she wrote me a lovely card just before we opened and I'm also planning to speak to her by phone in the next few days. I hope this production will raise more awareness in this country of her work -I certainly think she warrants it, she's a unique voice. Everybody that reads her work loves it and the audience reactions so far have generally been very good.
After Miracle, my plans aren't particularly fixed. The future stretches like new snow – who knows exactly what will happen. I'm writing quite a lot these days and I like to spend time with my grandchildren. Professionally, I just hope to go on doing good work. I think as an actor my tastes are pretty eclectic, and my range is broad - I love classical work, I love contemporary work, I love theatre, I love the business, I love writing and of course I also love film and television. I want to go on and hopefully be involved in all of them, and as I said I'm doing a lot of writing now and I'm really enjoying that. I don’t see myself not working but of course times are hard for everyone at the moment and acting is going through bad financial times. It’s tough for everyone at the moment – considering the premise of Miracle, it does rather feel as if life is imitating art!
- Susannah York was speaking to Theo Bosanquet
Miracle opens at the Leicester Square Theatre Basement tonight (7 January 2010, previews from 5 January), where it continues until 24 January 2010.