from one BBC commentator that ‘Glenda Jackson has a face to launch a thousand dredgers’. But notwithstanding The Music Lovers, Mary Queen of Scots. and Sunday Bloody Sunday. we knew she‘d really made the big time when. like Angela Rippon. she took the nation by storm as star guest in a mid-70s Morecombe and Wise Show.
l-ler film success being rooted firmly in her theatricalachievements.Jackson‘s presence on stage is characterised by a ﬂamboyant vocal range that has the inventive flair ofa jazz improviser. She denies any musical knowledge. but admits that her technical approach is deliberate. ‘What you say is one tool you have.‘ she expains. her voice keeping much of its warm stage resonance. ‘the way you say it is another. I was taught early on that the voice has to be as rich and as varied as you can make it. to give a sense that what is being said has been thought that second. and there have to be minute shifts and changes to try and present those variations of thought and feeling— the sense of blood actually coursing through your veins.
‘You learn words to forget them. That’s the whole point of learning words. So that you can concentrate as an actor on other things. [can‘t begin to find the other things until I‘ve knocked the words away. When it comes to performing. you‘ve done everything you can humanly do and the other piece of a production is presented to you which is the audience. You have to let
go. You just hope that the play will play you.
There has to be a level below which you know it‘s never going to drop. but over and above that. the ideal state is when it does actually play you.‘
Now the more earthly concerns ofthe 54-year-old actor — a long time Labour supporter and Kinnockite. quite at odds with the uncompromising Marxistvision of
fellow 60s politico. Venessa Redgrave — are
to win back the 2221 votes needed to wrest
; control from the hands ofthe ruling Tory
Party in Hampstead, and to switch career from voice ofthe playwright to voice ofthe people. This would be a complete switch. Jackson the politician, either by instinct or intellect. keeps herselfquite separate from Jackson the actor. Ask her about the Gulf War and she will talk extensively. clauses qualifying subclauses. history informing the present. Ask her about Eugene O‘Neill and she’ll talk equally fluently. But — arguing that her 1987 power-in-the-union movie. Business As Usual. is the only overtly political performance that she‘s done — she is insistent that her parliamentary and theatrical priorities are quite different. Still,
“ How can we as a nation, nine years from the 21st century, accept the idea of people sleeping in cardboard boxes and plastic bags on our streets? ’,
l 1 her sense of anger about changes over the past decade in the prevailing attitude towards the arts is unequivocal.
‘Theatre is not the most efficient way of presenting a political message,’ she admits. “because the audience it reaches is quite small. But the political message of the power of the imagination — which is one of the things that theatre should most clearly present — is a very powerful political idea. We’ve had over the past eleven years a view that what informs a healthy society is realism. You define the real world by the absolutes ofbalance sheets. You‘re either in profit or out of profit. Ifyou’re out ofprofit, it’s because either you’re incompetent or what you‘re doing is worthless. That attitude has excluded the power of the imagination to an extent that is very unhealthy indeed. It’s the definition of reality in pounds. shillings
and pence terms.’
But despite her condemnation ofthe attitudes governing business sponsorship of the arts and her empathy with theatre workers whose morale is being undermined, her political ambitions are of a different order. ‘My list of priorities are much more what I regard as the Welfare State.‘ she says. ‘Too many people have been allowed to fall out of the life of this country. The most obvious one is the obscenity of housing and the homeless. How can we as a nation, nine years from the let century. accept the idea of people sleeping in cardboard boxes and plastic bags on our streets? It’s almost unbelievable to me.’
‘We clearly are in a most parlous economic state.’ she continues, aware that solutions don’t come cheap. ‘We have no manufacturing base and no social fabric that is functioning in any kind of efficient way, let alone truly providing services. But the idea that there is a magic wand that can transform this pumpkin ofa country into a golden coach is crazy. I don’t find any paradox in the idea that social democracy is the way forward. As much as anything it is the priorities that will bring about the major changes. The Thatcher idea that there is no society — there are only individuals and families — will clearly not be part of the thinking. Most jobs are done more efficiently if there is a combination of talents and energies as opposed to single, immediate gratification that is to do with a sense of superiority, neither earned nor warranted.’
Glenda Jackson checks her watch, smiles politely and stops the interview with the efficiency of a hardened professional. Within a moment, she’s disappeared into O’Neill’s passionate world of feuding families, irresolvable love affairs and fatal blood-lines.
Mourning Becomes Electra is at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glsasgow, Fri5—Sat27April. See Theatre listings for details.
The List 5 — is April 199—173