Canal Street Online Manchester

Facing the Music – A life in musical theatre with Patricia Routledge in conversation with Edward Seckerson

Stockport Plaza - 9th September 2015

You could be forgiven for thinking that Patricia Routledge rose to fame late in life, but before Hetty and Hyacinth she had a full and varied career in musical theatre.  Having worked with some of the greats including Leonard Bernstein, Routledge has a huge array of anecdotes which she gladly shared during a conversation with music journalist and BBC Radio presenter, Edward Seckerson.

In the grand surroundings of the beautifully restored Stockport Plaza, Routledge holds court. She starts with her childhood in nearby Birkenhead and takes us through a whistlestop tour of her rise to prominence on the stage, pausing only for breath when a notable track is played.

Clearly suffering from a bad cold, Routledge was an absolute trooper of the old school variety, never letting a cough stop a tale or a sniffle interrupt a laugh.  Her love of performing was just that at first, she laughs, she never had any aspirations at school of making a career out of it, her ambition was to be an avant garde headteacher driving around in a red sports car and having romances all over Europe in the school holidays. I suspect she probably would have been quite good at that too but the stage beckoned and she started in rep at the Bristol Old Vic.

We follow her career through the West End and Broadway and she tells us tales of Groucho Marx, Noel Coward and Vincent Price which has the audience literally gasping for more and laughing when she tells us about an Australian yodeller, “a little goes a long way” she mutters with a knowing look.

It is almost a disappointment when the obligatory Hyacinth tale comes in, we already knew about that, we wanted to know more about this other Patricia Routledge.

She shares great banter with Seckerson who graciously plays the straight man to her and takes some light hearted ribbing but the stage is purely for Routledge and she is mesmerising. As the tunes play, she loses herself in the music and you want to climb inside her head and see the memories that are clearly playing out for her as we sit and listen to her take on classics such as Climb Every Mountain as well as other, more obscure pieces.

She even has the good grace to thank the theatre staff and remark on the restoration job, this is something modern day stars would probably forget to do but Routledge is cut from a different cloth and allows herself a little tirade on modern day theatre policy. She is not a fan of replacement castings, she believes that if you commit to a play, you commit to eight performances a week and build your life around it. She is clearly very final about this and received a huge round of applause, we did see a glimmer of Hyacinth at that point.

So does she still sing? She laughs and says “If you can call it that”. When pressed she confirms that she does sing at the cathedral where she attends but it would “turn the faithful to atheists but I’ve had no complaints yet”.

She received a standing ovation which she genuinely seemed touched by and as she walked off we realise that we will probably never see stars of this like again and it is a privilege to celebrate just a small part of her career with her.

By Chris Park for Canal-St Online