Stephanie Beattie stars in Matthew Parker’s 40th anniversary revival of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, which runs at London’s Hope Theatre from 2 to 20 May 2017.
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg – tell me about Brimstone & Treacle and your character.
Thank you very much for asking me back. It’s a real pleasure. This is always a tricky one to answer without giving too much away but it’s set in the 1970s and is the story of a family of three locked in a tragic situation until one evening a mysterious stranger rings their doorbell.
I play the mother, Mrs Bates, who is a full-time carer for the Bates’ daughter who was left injured and insensible after a car crash. It’s controversial and dark and pretty shocking and it was banned when it first came out in 1976 because of its disturbing content. I think it’s still shocking today. And it’s also very funny. But you’ll have to come and see it if you want to know more…
How familiar were you with this particular play, what enticed you to want to do it?
It was love at first read. I thoroughly enjoyed the script’s heady mix of disturbing and laugh-out-loud funny. I like theatre that gives you a bit of a jolt.
I think Dennis Potter’s magical pen is every bit as spell-binding as Harry Potter’s wand and although this is the Hope’s 40th Anniversary production of Brimstone & Treacle, it might have been written yesterday. It’s strange to re-visit my youth and see how the world has come full circle. It’s today’s issues wearing Seventies’ gear.
How does it feel to be returning to perform at The Hope Theatre for a third time?
Lovely, lovely, lovely. I like the intimacy of the space because you can really connect with the audience. And I have had some great times there – on stage and off. It’s like coming home.
You were directed by Matthew Parker in Steel Magnolias last year, so you have knowledge of his directional style. What do you enjoy about working with Matthew?
Boy, does he know how to pick a script! And he has a very fine eye for detail which means he wrings every last ounce out of it. But he doesn’t tell you – he helps you find it for yourself so you are always learning which is very satisfying. It also means I go home happy after rehearsals because I feel smart! Haha!
He is also kind, witty and very patient and so is lovely to work with from that point of view, too. Matthew gave me a wonderful gift when he cast me as M’Lynn last summer and it feels like Christmas all over again with Mrs Bates, who is very, very different to M’Lynn.
What can the audience expect from the production? What are its strengths?
What I enjoy about Dennis Potter is that he isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. He isn’t known for pulling his punches so there are some uncomfortable moments. And – if I’m doing my job properly, it’s also deeply funny.
Your last appearance at The Hope was in Steel Magnolias as M’Lynn, last year – what were your highlights of that play?
There really were so many, not least of all that the Production was nominated for – and won – several awards which was fantastic. It was also an absolute hoot to do and some deep and, I hope lasting, friendships were forged during that run. Work commitments mean that it’s not often that we all get the chance to meet up but when we do it’s as though we saw each other yesterday and are just turning up to do another performance.
Would you be keen to return to the role of M’Lynn in the future if the opportunity was there?
Absolutely. It was a great part. I was very lucky to get it and I loved M’Lynn.
You became a professional actress at a relatively late age. What led you to finally do it?
I don’t ever remember wanting to do anything else in life apart from act, but life got in the way, as it does sometimes. It was quite simply that an opportunity to go to drama school came along when I was 50 so I grabbed it. (As a 50th birthday present I treated myself to a place on the three-week Summer School at The Poor School in London and at the end of the course I was offered a place on the two-year full time course and just heard myself say yes.)
By the time I graduated I had left my job and home in Kent, moved into a bedsit in Kilburn and was cycling to college in King’s Cross, having sold my car to pay college fees. It was a surreal and intense experience but it was such a wonderful opportunity that there was no way I could turn it down.
It was the best and happiest decision I have ever made, bar none.
What would you say to encourage others who may have the same or a similar ‘dream’ but may fear its too late to follow it?
I could (and do) say “Just do it” but that’s a bit simplistic. What I would say is that sometimes you don’t have the time to sit down and think about how you will make things work. Sometimes you just have to say “yes” and then duck, dive, weave and juggle your way through all the logistical problems as you go. As my Dad says, “It’ll all work out in the end”. But not always as you expect it to, which is half the fun.
Are there any particular roles that you have always harboured a wish to play?
Gosh. That’s a tricky one. I tend to just see things and think “Oh I’d love a part in that!”. Playing Newt Scamander’s mum in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them would be great fun, if the role even exists. I really enjoy character roles and love Shakespeare which has some fantastic characters. And I love Dickens for the same reason… and Agatha Christie (I’m a huge fan). Actually yes, I’d love to play Miss Marple!
I understudied Alison Steadman as the eccentric Medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit and that was tremendous fun.
Finally, sell the show to me, why should people come and see it?
I suppose for the same reasons I wanted to be in it. It’s a beautifully written play, in an award-winning theatre, with an award-winning director and a set and costumes by an award-winning designer. It’s funny and it’s dark and it’s different and I hope our audiences will enjoy watching it as much as I am enjoying being in it.