There are treasured moments you look back on in your career, says Patricia Hodge.
“And being in Chichester has always been among them.”
Patricia returns to the city for the new musical version of Travels with my Aunt which runs in the Minerva until June 4.
It’s the latest in a happy line of Chichester appearances for Patricia which include Annie in Calendar Girls in 2008, Rosalind in As You Like It in 1983 and Nancy/Muv in The Mitford Girls in 1981.
“With Calendar Girls, it was lovely to be at the start of something, just as it is with Travels with my Aunt now. It is a privilege and also a responsibility because it is up to you to create it and give it a future.”
If you get it wrong, it could sink without trace?
“Well, obviously that’s never the intention!” laughs Patricia, known to millions as Miranda’s mum in the BBC sitcom Miranda on TV from 2009 to 2015.
“But I think you just get a sense when you are reading something that something should work. You start to see its potential. With Calendar Girls, you had such a wonderful human story. You get drawn into it, but I don’t think you can possibly know whether it will be a success.
“We were with it for a year, the initial cast, and now they are turning it into a musical which I think was always the intention.”
And now comes Travels with my Aunt, which now starts its life as a musical. Based on the novel by Graham Greene, it comes with book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
“The script was sent to me, and I just thought first of all it has got very good pedigree. It’s based on a novel by a very major author. Any book by Graham Greene is always going to be interesting, but it was a very long time ago that I read it.
“I remembered the structure of the story, but I didn’t remember the detail, and it has been fascinating to see how the musical elements enhance it.
“With a musical, obviously, you are cutting the story even more than you would have to do for a play because you are having to create space for the music, but the two Americans who did that have done a really brilliant job.”
In the piece, retired bank manager Henry Pulling is happy alone with his dahlias until, at his mother’s funeral, he meets his only living relative, the decidedly-bohemian Aunt Augusta (Patricia).
After she’s rattled the family skeletons, she suggests the pair flee to Europe. Henry is reluctant, but Aunt Augusta is nothing if not persuasive.
Through Paris and Istanbul and on to South America, Henry soon finds himself in a luxurious whirl of glamorous flight attendants, chic hotel suites and a particularly fine couchette on the Orient Express.
But alongside the romance and first-class thrills, there’s still a lot Henry doesn’t know about his aunt. Particularly how she’s paying for the high life and why she has so many grateful men dotted around the globe…
“Obviously there are episodes that they have had to miss out, but it doesn’t really matter.
“The point is that the story itself is just terrific. It’s the heartbeat of the story that counts. You could still have a play that takes you around the world and then at the end of it you just think ‘So what?’ if you don’t have that heart to it, which we have definitely got.
“Augusta is ultimately a bohemian. You have to remember this is late Graham Greene. It is 1969 even though people might think it is 40s or 50s, but this is part of a progressive world, and it is her freedom of spirit that makes her a bohemian.
“Its origins in literature and art and creativity is that the basic characteristic is someone that disregards public opinion and the rule book, and that is Augusta.”
For Patricia, it is more than 20 years since she last did a musical.
“I did A Little Night Music at the National, but it is not that I haven’t sung. I do some cabaret stuff some times and I have done concerts that are words and music, but this is certainly my first full-scale musical for a long time.”
It will also be her first full-length production in the Minerva – a venue which didn’t exist when she first performed in Chichester in The Mitford Girls, the musical written by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin for Patrick Garland’s first season in charge.
Patricia took to the stage alongside John Owen Edwards, Gay Soper, Patricia Mitchel, Julia Sutton, Colette Gleeson and Liz Robertson in a show which has gone down as one of the landmark events in the CFT’s five and a bit decades of existence.
“That was a very memorable time. It was Patrick’s first summer. It was the year of the Royal Wedding and the weather was wonderful.
“It was really Chichester en fête. That’s what I think of as Chichester Festival Theatre, and the other girls in the show are still lovely strong friends. even now.
“Obviously, we don’t see each other every day, but we still look upon each other as sisters.”
Thoughts of the production also bring back the fondest memories of Patrick Garland, a key figure in Chichester Festival Theatre history and one of the venue’s most popular artistic directors.
“And Patrick was lovely. He really was. It was a very special time. It was one of those lovely things that went far beyond being a job. It was a lovely experience.
“Since then, I have played the Minerva, but only one-off occasions. I did a cabaret concert with Sheridan Morley there, it must be about ten years ago. And I also did a rehearsed reading there of a Rattigan play.”
Patricia believes it will be precisely the venue Travels with my Aunt needs, better there than on the main-house stage… for the moment.
“I think it is a show that needs to be grounded in the smaller theatre and not overfaced with the big space to perform.
“It needs to unfold. We are all thrilled that it is in the Minerva. I love going back to Chichester, and I feel that this show is just right for the Minerva.”
Steven Pacey returns to Chichester to play Henry. His previous appearances include Blithe Spirit (1997) and Kent in King Lear (2013).
The show is directed by Christopher Luscombe who also directs the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing during Festival 2016. His previous work includes The Merry Wives of Windsor for Shakespeare’s Globe and Nell Gwynn in the West End.
Tickets from the Chichester Festival Theatre box office online at www.cft.org.uk or by calling 01243 781312.
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