Sarah Crompton: Meet the most famous actress you've never heard of

US actor Cherry Jones is a Broadway legend, but has never appeared on the British stage before. Sarah Crompton explains why she can’t wait for the actress UK debut at the Edinburgh International Festival

Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie
Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie
©Michael J. Lutch

I can’t think of a British equivalent to the American actress Cherry Jones – perhaps the most famous theatre star you’ve never heard of.

Or perhaps you have. In which case my apologies. But if Jones, who is about to appear on British stages in the Edinburgh International Festival revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, had crossed my consciousness, it was only as Allison Taylor, US President in the TV series 24. For two seasons, she represented decency and the American way and helped Jack Bauer to save the world. Again.

She was rather good. But I had no idea she was a legend until I was sitting in the stalls to watch a revival of The Heiress on Broadway in 2013. Dan Stevens and Jessica Chastain were starring and I thought they were terrific. But when I suggested this to the person sitting next to me, he all but burst into tears. "Yes, but no one is a good as Cherry Jones was," he explained.

She is a Broadway goddess; her name above the marque guarantees an audience

Jones won a Tony for her leading performance in the play in 1995 in a Lincoln Center production that people still talk about with awe. Ten years later, she won another Tony for her performance in John Patrick Shanley‘s Doubt. She is a Broadway goddess; her name above the marque guarantees an audience. Yet she has never set foot on a British stage – until now.

We should be in for a treat. Ben Brantley, august critic of the New York Times, called her portrayal of Amanda Wingfield, in John Tiffany‘s radical production, "career defining". He saw the play twice, once out of town in Cambridge, Mass. and once in New York, and remarked: "Ms Jones gave a wonderful performance in Cambridge. What she’s doing now, though, is one for the ages, an Amanda that may someday be spoken of with the awe that surrounds Laurette Taylor’s creation of the part nearly 70 years ago… She gives the foolish, garrulous Amanda…a towering, pathos-steeped gallantry."

But even without such an encomium, I should want to see Jones in action – in the same way I can hardly wait to see Hope Davis, another fine American stage actress who is making her British stage debut in David Hare’s The Red Barn at the National Theatre from October 6.

Just as the US and the UK are two nations divided by a common language, so the theatrical aristocracy of both countries is the same but entirely different. I am always fascinated by the way American players – particularly the women – find ways to live inside a play and a character; their form of naturalism is so invisible that it almost doesn’t seem like acting. It doesn’t mean I like one style of acting more than another, but there is a subtle and riveting difference that is always a wonder to watch.

For our Edinburgh coverage head to our festival hub page