BEHIND THE SCENES: Angela Lansbury Returns To The West End
This March sees thrice-Academy Award nominated actress Dame Angela Lansbury's return to the West End stage after an absence of almost forty years. Lansbury will reprise her recent run on Broadway as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's sublimely silly Blithe Spirit. At the Gielgud Theatre, Angela shared some of her past and her hopes for this production's future.
When greeted, Lansbury said: "I already feel welcome in this house. It's an extraordinary experience to be in the theatre that my mother made her debut in, in 1918. It seems rather interesting that I find myself here, how many years later?"
Her mother Moyne MacGill's play was called Love in a Cottage.
"I love that title!" laughed Lansbury. "Of course it feels like coming home. This is the place of my birth; I lived here 'til I was fourteen years old and, because of the war, was forced to evacuate to America.
"I came back from time to time. Most of you are too young to know what I came back in. I did several plays - I did a play called All Over with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then the last thing I did was Hamlet, but prior to that I did Gypsy at the Piccadilly Theatre, which played for almost a year, so I have been back, but not for forty years. I can't believe it's forty years! It doesn't seem that way to me.
"Life has been marvellous. I've had an extraordinary, interesting and varied career that has taken me all over the world and I've got to play with some of the great actors of my generation, and it's still going strong."
Indeed, Lansbury herself is still going very strong. Despite having had both hip and knee replacements, she is keen to reprise this particular - quite physically involved - role and to continue performing in general.
"Noel Coward is such an icon in this country - all over the world, for that matter. I think it's one of the best parts I've ever had in the theatre. That is really the primary reason I'm doing it. I think it's an extraordinary character; I adore playing it. I love getting out every night on stage to do it, and if you're that happy in a role, you want to repeat it. And what better place to repeat it but London? It's the place of its origins and of my origins.
"Madame Arcati embodies all the qualities that as a child I used to fool around with. When I was about seven-eight-nine, my sister was a marvellous organiser of theatrical events in our house and one of the things that we used to do as children was to do a sort of medium séance at Christmastime. She would be the medium and I would be the other person. So I've played this part for a long time. A long time! People say I must be involved with the occult - I'm not, but it's great fun to play with...and I do have an inordinate amount of energy, which I've got to expend somehow. I always say there are two things in life that I know how to do: one of them is to keep house and the other is to act. Acting usually takes precedence over keeping house - it's a bit messy at times!
"(Every day I take) a handful of vitamins, over about fifteen minutes! I think it's my constitution. You know, my grandfather, George Lansbury, came from the East End and he was built like a [tough noise] - an iron man! He walked everywhere; he walked all over London - uphill, everywhere for speeches and so on - and he had an amazing constitution. I think I inherited it from him; I really do. I've got admiration for him.
Despite stating "I run a real English household, I can tell you! I love everything English", Lansbury has spent most of her career in the USA. She agrees that you make the life and career that comes to you.
"The US is where I began. And of course I had what they would call an incredibly "big break" when I was seventeen and I was cast in a movie, which was a very elegant and beautifully made movie called Gas Light with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. And as a young actress, this was an enormous break, which was followed by two other lovely films - National Velvet with Elizabeth Taylor and after that The Picture of DorIan Grey. They were three classical films to this day. They were followed, unfortunately, by an absolute string of the most awful films you could possibly imagine. I was an absolute unknown quantity to MGM; they really didn't know what to do with me, so they cast me in anything and everything. I really wasted about eight years.