Acting is a good life for Felicity
She became a household name through the much-loved TV sitcom The Good Life, but Felicity Kendal also has a varied career in theatre.
Now, she’s looking forward to starring in a new stage adaptation of the novel A Room With A View, at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 7 to 12.
Felicity says: “I did this because Adrian Noble (a former Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director and recipient of more than 20 Olivier Award nominations) is directing it and also it’s a classic and very good adaptation of a classic piece of work, the novel, and beautifully written.
“It’s also a challenge to put a novel onto the stage and it is a new production, a new piece, and I love doing something that hasn’t been done before.”
With its cast of vivid characters, the elegant comedy written in 1908 is widely recognised as one of the finest novels of the 20th century.
It tells how English rose Lucy Honeychurch is touring Italy with her spinster cousin Charlotte Bartlett, played by Felicity, as chaperone.
Charlotte is quick to step in when Lucy makes the mistake of fraternising with the lower-class Mr Emerson and his son George at their Florentine pensione. However, when she witnesses Lucy and George kissing, she has no option but to whisk Lucy away to Rome.
Back home at the family’s Surrey estate, Lucy becomes engaged to the eminently suitable (but priggish and pretentious) Cecil Vyse. Charlotte has sworn Lucy to secrecy over the kiss with George, but will Lucy be able to repress her feelings when she discovers that the Emersons have taken a house in the village?
Speaking about her character Charlotte, Felicity says: “She’s not that prim, she’s just a chaperone and being a chaperone in those days meant that your job was to keep the young lady in your charge entirely safe from any kind of danger or encounter with unknown, unintroduced people and certainly young men.
“I think that it’s a complicated character, as in fact every one of them is, but very, very real and very interesting because it’s set in that time whereas it would not even remotely be called prim if she was a single woman now.
“It’s actually about that period in time that affects women and society and that’s what makes her the sort of character she is. That same woman living nowadays would not be like that because they would not be under the strains of society and convention.”
Felicity is looking forward to appearing in Norwich, which she describes as “a wonderful part of the world.”
And, while she says that while some jobs are happier or more exciting to do than others, she doesn’t really have favourites.
“The one that I’m doing at the moment is usually my favourite,” she explains.
“I tend to enjoy the work more and more as I go along the road, and I loved the last job and I love this job.
“Every job has a completely different feeling to it so they don’t all get put into one basket, but I’ve had so many wonderful plays to do that I couldn’t pick one out in particular.”
Felicity starred in The Good Life, Solo, The Mistress and Rosemary and Thyme on TV. She also has a varied stage career. So, which medium does she prefer?
She explains it’s an actor’s job to make it as real and convincing as possible whichever media you’re in.
“Personally, at the moment I’m really going back more always to my roots which are the theatre because I love the live audience…,” she says.
“It’s the craft of acting which I enjoy and I make the decisions that evening how to contact the audience in that certain way after the director obviously has created the world you’re in.
“And I like that contact and so that’s probably what I would say, if I had to lose one it wouldn’t be the theatre.”
She took part in BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, with professional dancer Vincent Simone.
“I found it tremendous fun,” she recalls.
“I just thought it was a hoot and I enjoyed getting fit.”
The classic 1970s sitcom, The Good Life, in which she starred alongside Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington is a time she recalls fondly.
“I have nothing but gratefulness really. I’m very proud of being in it,” she says.
“Something which was so clearly a success and made so many people feel good it can’t be anything but, you know, it’s a feather in one’s cap.
“I’m totally grateful at having been in that and I look back, I think, with great love.”
She explains that Richard Briers was the only television star at that time.
“None of us were that well known,” she says.
“He was a very, very well-known actor – in the West End and on television. He had had a lot of really successful series, so he was certainly the television star.
“We all had training in theatre, we didn’t come in from films or television, we had all done a lot of theatre work so we worked as actors who were in the theatre.
“We just were a very, very good match because we’d all done rep a great deal, so it was just a very lucky casting chance that happened. We got on very, very well as friends and colleagues, but we also worked in a very similar way.”
Asked if she has any roles she would still like to play, she says: “I take everything as it comes, and want something different and am pleased if it’s a surprise.
“There are some actors who want to play some parts or other. I don’t actually have that. I want to be surprised.”
A Room With A View is at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 7 to 12. For tickets, call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit the website: www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk