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Penelope Keith On ... Entertaining Angels

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This week, actress Penelope Keith arrives in Edinburgh as part of a UK tour of Richard Everett’s comedy Entertaining Angels. Keith plays a clergy wife, Grace, who has spent a lifetime on best behaviour. Now, following the death of her husband Bardolph, she is enjoying the new-found freedom to do and say exactly as she pleases. But the return of her eccentric missionary sister Ruth, together with some disturbing revelations force Grace to confront the truth of her marriage.

Tell us about your character.
Grace has to cope with recent widowhood – and she faces the difficulty – as some women do – that she was an adjunct to her husband’s business – the church. Suddenly, she loses her house and her identity, as well as her husband. When we first did the play, I had a lot of letters from women who identified strongly with her, who said it helped them. I think it does help to know that other people have suffered in the same way as yourself – you don’t feel so apart from the rest of society.

You’re best know for your roles in The Good Life and To The Manor Born playing strong independent women. Why don’t you do so much TV work these days?
There aren’t that many plays on TV now, are there? And I was trained for the theatre. In fact, I worked it out that I’ve never been away from the theatre for more than 18 months.

Who are your favourite writers?
I tend to choose comedies depicting social behaviour with a sting in the tail: Priestley, Wilde, Coward. I certainly think these plays have great roles for women – also very witty dialogue. I don’t divide plays into comedy and drama. I think you can learn a lot more from comedy than drama. Shakespeare was clever enough to know that a little laughter helped a tragic play along. Interestingly, our director, Alan Strachan, said at the beginning of rehearsals: all the great plays are about families.

Do you ever get bored of touring?
I love it, even though it’s hard work. It’s a way of life for me. I’ve been doing it for 50 years. Audiences up and down the land are wonderful – and you see things you’d never see normally. Edinburgh is the furthest north I go this time – King’s Theatre is a lovely place.

What are you interested in away from the bright lights?
I love my work, but I do have a life apart from it which I enjoy hugely. I’m a keen gardener and rarely work in the summer. I try not to be away when there’s a lot to do in the garden because I would worry about it. I usually start a tour in September and even then, my Sundays are spent gardening. I love my garden. It is a perfect way to relax.

- Victoria Kingston


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