British actor David Suchet

Poirot star 'made up' playing Lady Bracknell in Wilde classic

// Nottingham Post

The last time David Suchet was on a Nottingham stage was in Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O‘Neill’s dark drama about addiction and family disfunction that was described by our reviewer as “the best thing seen on a stage so far this year”.

A contrasting production sees the Poirot star return — Suchet will be wearing a dress and full make-up.

His role as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s classic farce The Importance of Being Earnest is one he admits he accepted with some trepidation.

“Basically it was our producer Kim Poster,” says the 68-year-old.

“She was very keen that we should work together on something less heavy after the O’Neill and, coincidentally, I’d also been looking for something lighter for some time. I was very interested in doing a comedy. Of course, I think I agreed to Kim’s idea with slight trepidation. However, once I’d looked into it and realised that such notable actors as Brian Bedford on Broadway and Geoffrey Rush in Australia had played Lady Bracknell, I could see that I’d be following in a line of leading male performers and I felt more comfortable.”

“Had there not been such precedents, I’m not sure I’d have agreed to the suggestion.”

Suchet also argues that his claiming of the role is part of a more general trend.

‘We’ve had female Hamlets, a female Richard II and both all-male and all-female productions of Shakespeare,’ says the Londoner.

‘Should every part be theoretically open to all actors, female and male? It’s hard to generalise. I think it depends on what the director wants to say.’

How did he decide on how his Lady Bracknell would sound and move?

“I’m not making her a pantomime dame with a falsetto voice,” he promises.

“I’ll also be wearing a boned corset which means that you can’t slouch and you have to sit on the edge of your seat with your back straight.”

Wilde’s most popular play, first performed in London in 1895, satirises the etiquette and concerns of late Victorian society.

“I think that she’s more nouveau riche than true upper class,’ argues Suchet of his character. As she herself admits, she had no fortune of any kind until she met and married Lord Bracknell. As a convert to the upper classes, she has become grander than the genuine aristocracy.”

There have been many Lady Bracknells down the years including Judi Dench, Penelope Keith, Maggie Smith and Patricia Routledge, and they have all been faced with a perennial problem — how to deliver the line ‘a handbag!?’

Says Suchet: “Everybody asks you about that line. It’s now akin to warning an actor about to play Hamlet that he should look out for the ‘To be or not to be’ speech’.”

More of a problem for the actor is the length of the dialogue.

“These are the longest sentences I’ve ever had to learn,” he admits.

“You have to find the breath to drive through those sentences. But it’s your job to embrace that language. It would be such a mistake to cut it up and so break its particular rhythm.”

For anyone seeing The Importance of Being Earnest for the first time, how would he describe it?

“Wilde gave it the subtitle A Trivial Comedy for Serious People and, as has often been said, playing comedy is a serious business. It’s a glorious English farce in which Wilde mercilessly satirises the upper classes.”

It was only last year that Suchet stepped down as Poirot after 25 years.

“It was a very sad day when we finished, as I knew it would be, and I miss Poirot very much. However he is still alive, appearing on television screens in different countries around the world.

“I won’t do any more Poirots on television but I’d be delighted to play him in the cinema.”

Despite his long association with the character, Suchet believes he has avoided being typecast, hence his recent work, making a documentary on St Peter, playing a Roman Catholic cardinal in The Last Confession, and recording a BBC Radio 3 production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

“So that’s St Peter, a cardinal, Willy Loman and now Lady Bracknell,” he concludes.

“What glorious variety! I’m enormously grateful to my industry for not typecasting me. And even when I was playing Poirot on television, I was still cast as Robert Maxwell — and you could scarcely get further away from Poirot than Robert Maxwell.”

From: www.nottinghampost.com

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