To mark 40 years since the passing of the great, unremittingly genteel, comedienne and monologist, Joyce Grenfell, Kick in the Head Productions are embarking on a UK tour with ‘Choice Grenfell’, a celebration of her finest works.
In this delightful new show, Joyce (Suzanna Walters) is our guide for a delightful delve into some of her most endearing characters, ably accompanied by her trusted pianist William Blezard (Andrew D. Brewis).
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to talk to them, following on from a successful rehearsal at The Joyce Grenfell centre yesterday, and discuss their upcoming tribute to Joyce.
How did the show come about?
Andrew: I (Andrew Brewis aka William Blezard) went to the same school as Joyce Grenfell. I took part in the Gala in London’s West End to celebrate her life and also involved with the inaugural J.C Festival…so grew up with Joyce’s work. I have always loved her work and her love of people, and it felt right time to revisit some of Joyce’s great characters.
We have been lucky enough to have the support of Pookie Blezard (Williams daughter) on this project and have been honoured to loft rummage to find personal letters and sheet music in the Blezard loft…finding out about the people behind scenes!
What is it about Joyce Grenfell that inspired you to put together this production?
Andrew: Having Pookie Blezard on board has been great ….she’s suggested costume designers (as she’s a fashion designer herself!) …so we have some great costumes. Listening to Pookie talk about her Dad and the relationship with Joyce has been wonderful…full of personal memories…which makes this show really quite special!
Suzanna: The opportunity to play Joyce has been a privilege. Her acute observation of people and her ability to portray them is remarkable, and a gift for any actress.
What are you most looking forward to about touring “Choice Grenfell”?
Suzanna: Having the chance to bring back happy memories for the audience and hopefully introduce Joyce to a new generation. Also being able to perform with such a talented musician as Andrew is a joy.
Andrew: Getting to know my co-star and sharing the JOY that Joyce expressed in her own shows…she loved people!
What can audiences expect from the show?
Andrew: Some of the old favourites are there … like A Terrible Worrier and Lumpy Latimer and Stately As A Galleon … of course … but some less well known sketches too…and we hope the audience will hear more about who the real Joyce Grenfell was…and her relationship with her trusted “Orchestra” …or rather pianist William Blezzard.
Suzanna: Some very familiar pieces, some less so...a mixture of humour and pathos and also a rare insight into the friendship between Joyce and Blezard.
How did you get into your characters?
Suzanna: I practised largely by careful observation of footage of Joyce performing...the detail and nuances of her portrayal of her characters. Although getting under the skin of those characters was important, it was equally so, to be able to play them honestly and do them justice. Also I read books by and about Joyce, including letters she wrote to close friends, which helped me get to know her as a person as well as an actress.
Andrew: I was given 11 hours of William Blezard tapes to listen to…and we have watched many times Joyce on some great BBC DVDs…and we have a fabulous director (Simon Downing) …who has moulded us into shape!
Which is your favourite work by Joyce?
Andrew: I love the Nursery School sketches…it never dates…and they are very funny!!! 4 year olds will always be 4 year olds!
Suzanna: It’s not easy to pick just one! I love the humour of the 'Shirley's girlfriend' sketches, and 'A Terrible Worrier' also huge fun to play.
It was a pleasure to discuss the upcoming tour, and it's clear that they are eager to portray Joyce and William in Choice Grenfell. If you wish to see this touching tribute, as it makes its way to Solihull on 21st May, tickets are available to book here.