Similarly, Routledge is determined that readers should clearly understand that her most famous character, social-climber Hyacinth Bucket (“Bouquet”) in the TV series “Keeping Up Appearances”, has nothing to do with the part that she plays at the Canberra Theatre in “Admission: One Shilling.”
“It’s totally different,” she says.
She is equally determined that readers should not think that she is primarily a comedienne, though her formidable record, including an Olivier-winning role in Bernstein’s “Candide”, an Australian tour as Lady Bracknell and, of course, the universally-recognisable Hyacinth, would suggest otherwise.
“I played Queen Margaret with the Royal Shakespeare Company,” she reminds me in answer to my naive suggestion that comedy was her metier.
Indeed, “Admission: One Shilling” is different. Billed as “a moving evocation of art in the time of war”, it sees Routledge appearing with London-based Australian concert pianist, Piers Lane, in the retelling of the story of piano virtuoso Myra Hess who, in the depths of World War II, produced a series of lunchtime concerts at London’s National Gallery.
Her name might not be familiar to Australians, but it certainly is to English people of the wartime generation.
“The idea began with Piers Lane, who thought it would be an interesting idea to remember Dame Myra Hess,” Routledge explains to “CityNews”. “It tells the story of the way in which she lifted the spirit of the nation by setting up these lunchtime concerts, held for anyone who wanted to hear classical music… it was a real revelation for the people who came and the concerts went on for 6½ years”.
Routledge, during her own school days, saw Dame Myra perform in Liverpool.
She doesn’t impersonate Dame Myra, although she does read some of her words, while Lane, who is, incidentally, director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, brings the house down with his renditions of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.
“It is a very great privilege to be on stage with Piers Lane; we are having a wonderful time,” she enthuses.
Routledge is looking forward to coming to Canberra, which she has visited briefly, admiring “the wonderful avenue of remembrance and the great parliament building”.
She likens the possibility of encountering a kangaroo in the national capital to the increasing likelihood of meeting foxes in England.
It is with a heavy sigh that Routledge eventually agrees to talk about Hyacinth, reminding me as she does that she is a working actress and not that character.
“I was asked to read a script, and do a pilot,” she says.
“I thought, ‘I could knit this woman together because it was so strongly delineated in the text’ – she leapt from the page.
“To my astonishment, Hyacinth has a resonance around the world and I get letters from all over the place… from all ages and all stratas of society… nobody is more surprised than I am.”
“We still get her on digital TV,” I tell her.
“Oh dear,” Routledge says with a laugh and another sigh.
“Admission: One Shilling”, The Playhouse, May 20-21, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au