When we asked, “Hey, who loves Imelda Staunton?” Alison Carr was waving the hardest and jumping the highest – so she gets to tell everyone why.
As I write this I have no voice. I’m no doctor, but I blame Imelda Staunton.
Let me explain. I think that I was so excited to see her in the current West End production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that I straight up lost my voice two hours before curtain up due to the anticipation. That was a week ago and I’m still hoarse. THAT’s how good she is.
If I allow myself to just freestyle on why I love La Staunton so much, this article will be 7,000 words long. With that in mind, I’m going to restrict myself to five of my favourite of her performances.
In no particular order…
Mrs Lovett (Sweeney Todd), Momma Rose (Gypsy), Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
OK, so I’m starting by cheating, but it’s my article so I can do what I like. These are the three roles I’ve seen Staunton perform live on stage. Ahead of the first (Sweeney Todd in 2012), I strolled into the theatre with no idea I was about to be forever changed.
I proceeded to watch the show with my mouth hanging open. And that wasn’t to try to catch a stray pie. Sondheim musicals are huge, dense and dark, and Staunton’s Mrs Lovett was as funny as she was unhinged, as lustful as she was terrifying. And man, she can belt out a song.
“I know Umbridge is a pocket-sized tyrant who smiles sweetly as she tortures Harry, but honestly I’m kinda Team Dolores.”
I’d suggest that Staunton excels as women who could be dismissed as monsters, whether this be Sweeney’s pie-making accomplice, the ultimate pushy stage mother or a braying, button-pushing wife. In Staunton’s hands they become human.
In Virginia Woolf, for example, her Martha is so gut-wrenching because her vicious tongue hides years of hurt and self-loathing. Each performance is rooted somewhere honest and real. And each is a masterclass.
Vera is a wife, mother and backstreet abortionist in 1950s London whose world falls apart when the police come knocking. The scene of her being led away from her family is seared into my heart, as is the interrogation that follows. Staunton is a tour-de-force in this Mike Leigh masterpiece. It won her truck loads of awards, and rightly so.
Grace Andrews (Psychoville)
I’ve already waxed lyrical here about my love for Psychoville, and ruthless Nanotech boss Grace Andrews is a major part of this. She’s only in series two but she makes her mark, all sharp suits, blunt bob and a hunt for technology advanced enough to make her feel like she’s in Minority Report.
Staunton is a fantastic comic actress, and while she’s not as grotesque as some of the programme’s other characters, she does hold her own in a scene opposite the head of a decapitated Nazi. So, yeah.
Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter series)
Staunton should have been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Order of the Phoenix. Why was she not? Also, why is she not a Dame yet? Anyway, I digress. I know Umbridge is a pocket-sized tyrant who smiles sweetly as she tortures Harry, but honestly I’m kinda Team Dolores.
Yes, she’s a brute in pink tweed but she’s so deliciously evil, I love it.
Enid (That Day We Sang)
I’m clearly a sucker for a singing Staunton. Pair her with my idol Victoria Wood and I’m in heaven.
Wood’s musical comedy stars Staunton and Michael Ball as former members of a Manchester children’s choir who are reunited 40 years later. Both are scared that life has left them behind.
No one does comedy, pathos and middle-aged disenchantment like Wood, and Staunton is the perfect fit. Her Enid is a timid, lonely wallflower who craves romance and excitement; who longs to fling off her girdle and her 45-denier American tan tights. Who wants to sing again. And she does.
It’s a perfectly pitched performance that makes me smile and weep every time I watch it. And I watch it a lot.5045 Views
Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.