Tea At Five

Thu 15th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Christian Kriticos

at 17:19 on 22nd Aug 2013

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Katharine Hepburn is the undisputed queen of Hollywood. With a career that spanned six decades and a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress (she was never nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, as she never accepted a role that was not a leading part), Hepburn was truly one of a kind. Fortunately, Meg Lloyd is more than up to the challenge of playing this larger-than-life character in what is a fantastic production.

‘Tea at Five’ is an hour-long one-woman play, which manages to be engaging throughout. The first half takes place in 1938, a period during which Hepburn was going through a career slump. She demands over the phone that her agent get her the role of Scarlet O’Hara, and Meg Lloyd brilliantly captures a simultaneous sense of childish bossiness and Hollywood charm. Between phone calls, the audience is addressed directly by Hepburn, as she regales us with stories of her childhood and her early beginnings in show business.

There is a brief interlude in the middle, during which we hear a series of short radio clips which take us up to the year 1983. Hepburn is now older, damaged (nursing a broken ankle from a recent car accident) and still alone. The focus becomes Spencer Tracy, the deceased love of her life, and, as the play progresses, the audience truly begins to feel that they know and understand Hepburn, a woman who was famous for keeping her private life out of the limelight.

The play succeeds thanks to a very strong script by Matthew Lombardo, based on Hepburn’s own autobiography, which balances a consistent wit with moments of great sadness. The fact that the stage is never shared is clearly significant, reflecting Hepburn’s own dominating presence as an actress, but also the fact that a Hollywood lifestyle, for all its glamour and glory, ultimately uses people, leaving them empty and isolated.

Enough cannot be said about Meg Lloyd’s performance. It is an incomprehensible feat simply to memorise an hour’s worth of speech, yet alone to deliver it with intensity that can hold an audience captivated throughout. Although it took place at 11 o’clock in the morning, the performance I attended was completely full, and I’m certain that no one left disappointed.

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Lise McNally

at 19:44 on 22nd Aug 2013

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Matthew Lombardo adapts the memoirs of the late, great Katharine Hepburn in this charming one-woman show. Comical and confiding, a close living room provides the setting for numerous trips down the memory lanes of Hollywood, Broadway, and the Hepburn family tree. Comforting and exotic, it’s five o’clock, and tea is served.

The script is a delicate blend of funny anecdote, sharp exchange, and touching recollection, and is served up with charm and grace by Meg Lloyd. With a winning gutsiness and instant magnetism, Lloyd’s Hepburn takes the audience into her confidence like old friends, relating past and present with equal aplomb. The show is paced so that the single-speaker format is never tiring, as phone calls, doorway exchanges, and voice-over film reviews provide new fodder for Hepburn’s narratorial attention.

Furthermore, the script allows a moving sense of development through having two teatimes: one with Catherine as an assertive 30 something, another as an elderly woman struggling with ill health and impending Parkinson’s, yet whose spirit remains totally her own. The arrangement leaves a performance in which fond remembrances give way to hilariously bitchy exchanges, and sad memories are shaken off by the present day comforts of tea and indomitable self-possession.

Meg Lloyd does full justice to the carefully crafted script. Vocally, she is spot-on in both pitch and delivery, narrating the piece in a recognisable Hepburnesque manner, which is at once familiar and performative. Chatting personably before leaping into a dramatic recital of a suddenly remembered story, Lloyd keeps her subject’s theatrical skill and performance style a constant presence, but never allows her own performance to be tainted by artificiality. Her physical performance likewise is an embodiment rather than an impersonation: those famous trousers, purposeful strides, and slammed down telephones serve as background aids to characterisation rather than gimmicks.

The temporal leap is similarly accomplished from within, rather than without. No drawn on age-lines substitute in for Lloyd’s performance; she convincingly ages herself through altered voice and stance, allowing the new trials of age—shaking hands grasping at pill bottles and stiff legs struggling to respond to the doorbell—to be faced without masking the sparkling vitality of the ageing actress.

Finishing touches on an elegant repast, the set leaves enough room for the character to possess the stage like her own home, but provides enough detail to contextualise and colour the production. Offering Fringe audiences the chance to start their day with well conveyed comedy, comfort, and sadness, ‘Tea at Five’ is a gorgeous infusion.

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