Penelope Keith talks about Good Grief
October 31, 2012
Everyone’s favourite actress Penelope Keith is finding much to both celebrate and contemplate in her latest play, the bittersweet comedy Good Grief.
It’s not the most obvious subject matter for a comedy but Penelope Keith’s latest play is all about grief. She plays June Pepper, the wife of a tabloid editor who has just died and she is dealing with her own grief.
“Well, bereavement is one of the last subjects that we can’t seem to discuss,” says Penelope. “People just don’t talk about it until it happens to them.
“The piece is written by Keith Waterhouse and he is the sort of person who says what other people just think. I think the person who is most like him today is Rod Liddle who writes in the Sunday Times.”
She believes that people will come away from the play with both a smile on their faces and with something to think about.
“There are some great lines, it is a joy to work with, but there is plenty of substance, plenty of wry humour and many poignant moments.
“It looks at marriage, widowhood and bereavement. My character is asked to keep a journal of her grief by her husband before he dies and it is not an easy task.”
As usual Penelope has undertaken plenty of research for her role, explaining: “We’ve had a talk from a former newspaper editor who worked in Fleet Street as it was and also visited St Bride’s Church in London and before we actually started to rehearse, we talked about the play and what it meant to us.”
Despite being on stage for almost the entire show, Penelope hasn’t found it too hard to learn all her lines.
“You have to be persistent,” she says. “You have to put the work in but I firmly believe that you have a learning muscle that, if you use, keeps working well.”
Penelope loves being on tour and certainly makes the most of getting out and about.
“It’s wonderful to see new places, especially places that you might not normally see.
“When I was last in Edinburgh, I went to the Falkirk Wheel and the Forth Bridge, and from Nottingham I saw the National Memorial Arboretum which was fascinating.
“This tour is just the right length, we finish on November 17 so then I can get all ready for Christmas.”
Penelope, as you would imagine, is very sensible about keeping in good shape while on tour, saying that she eats well and rests. “I do try to put my feet up for about an hour and a half in the afternoon,” she says. “And I like to eat well, to keep well – salads are a real favourite.”
After Christmas Penelope, who is in her early 70s, isn’t sure what the future holds workwise. “Well, that is the joy of it – you are never too sure. Musicians are booked out for months ahead but actors don’t really know. You just hope that something interesting will turn up.”
She isn’t hankering after any particular role, saying: “No, I am in a happy, contented state, there is nothing that I am chasing.”
And she adds: “There isn’t a lot of television work for us women who have been around for a long time – I know you hear that a lot.
“But most of my generation were trained for the stage so that is where we tend to work.”
Unlike many of her peers who tire of talking about their past glories, Penelope is happy to reminisce about her starring television roles which include the hugely popular The Good Life and To The Manor Born. Both saw Penelope play strong women characters, Margot in The Good Life with Felicity Kendal, Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, and in To The Manor Born which teamed her with the suave Peter Bowles.
Both shows have really stood the test of time, being shown around the world and are still loved by millions of viewers. “They were wonderful parts and I look back with great affection,” says Penelope, adding that she still sees many of the ‘old gang’.
“I speak to them on the telephone and we meet up, and yes, they are still working which is great.”
Away from work and you’ll find Penelope in the garden.
Now based in Surrey with her husband Rodney, she has been a passionate gardener for years. She has even, she says, presented a gardening programme for television such is her knowledge and enthusiasm. She talks with vigour about the soil condition of her own garden and my appetite is whetted to see it as it sounds so good.
n For tickets contact the box office on 01483 440000 or at www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk.