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Felicity Kendal on starring in A Room With A View at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Felicity Kendal Picture: Nobby Clark
Felicity Kendal Picture: Nobby Clark

Felicity Kendal talks about her role in the stage version of A Room with a View

Felicity Kendal Picture: Nobby Clark
Felicity Kendal Picture: Nobby Clark

Having been a mainstay of British stage and screen for nearly 50 years, Felicity Kendal truly needs no introduction.

For an actress who has tackled such a wide variety of parts, Ms Kendal, who recently turned 70 (though she certainly doesn’t look it), currently finds herself inhabiting the role of Charlotte Bartlett in a stage adaption of the E M Forster novel, A Room with a View, first published in 1908.

Set in Italy and England during the Edwardian era, this classic tale of love and restraint is both a romance and a critique of English society at the dawn of the 20th century. Perhaps the best known take on the story is the Merchant-Ivory produced film released in 1985 starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch and Maggie Smith as Charlotte.

The play will stop off at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday, November 14 to Saturday November 19.

“It’s going very well,” replies Ms Kendal, when asked how the nationwide run’s been going down with audiences. “We’re packing them in, so that’s a good sign. We’re in our fifth week of an eight-week tour.”

Commenting on the part of Charlotte – strait-laced older cousin and chaperone to the young Lucy Honeychurch (played by Imogen Sage) – Ms Kendal says: “I like playing different characters to what I’ve done before, and this part is very different to the last one I did, which was a sophisticated, married lady who is a very flirtatious and successful actress who rules the roost and has children.

“She’s the centre of attention and leads her life exactly on her terms – and the character of Charlotte is a spinster who failed to get married because of a past scandal. She lives her life according to the rules of society then, which was on everybody else’s terms but her own.

“She’s financially dependent and not married, therefore she has no standing in society. She basically has to be a chaperone and it’s a very inferior position for a woman to be in. It’s interesting to play different women who actually existed in that period.”

So what drew her to the part?

“It’s a good play and it’s a very good novel – and the characters are interesting. There’s always a combination of reasons why you take a job, in any kind of business, I think.”

The relationship between the cast members is evidently strong.

“The normal thing is that actors really get on together – they’re like a lot of kids,” explains Ms Kendal. “We’re having a party next week and every single one of the company is going, and we can’t wait, so that’s how well we get on – and it’s a large company.”

Of course, Ms Kendal has an impressive number of theatre and TV credits to her name. But what does she prefer?

“I like television and I like theatre – I like them equally,” she says. “It’s what I do and I enjoy what I do. But the bottom line is it’s still a job; you still have to do it whether you feel like it or not, and some days it’s more fun than others!

“You’re more in control of your performance in the theatre than on film, but you’re doing the same thing.”

For many people, Felicity Kendal will always be Barbara Good, loving wife of Tom Good (played by the late Richard Briers) in 1970s sitcom The Good Life, which also starred Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington.

“Well that’s lucky because that was a long time ago,” she laughs. “That it’s still remembered is an incredible bonus and very flattering, I have to say.”

What are the actress’s standout memories of the show, which dealt with self-sufficiency in Surbiton?

“Oh laughing,” she recalls. “Just jokes and laughing. I saw Penny the other night in Guildford and it just came back to me. We immediately made a joke about something and what we had in common, all of us, is each of us made the other laugh like a drain. That is what I remember, just laughing all the time.”

:: A Room with a View runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from November 14-19. Tickets are priced £18–£42 from cambridgeartstheatre.com

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