RADA Festival: Confessions of an Old Lady #2 with Joan Shepard

No medium could better deliver the autobiography of an actress other than a one woman show. This play encompasses and encounters the many wonders and anecdotes of Joan Shepard who is, in a simple and underestimated statement, a wonderful, talented and heroic actress. From the very beginning of the show, she captivates, commands, intrigues and shocks her audience by cutting short the applause soon after striding onto the stage with an authoritative “Let’s get one thing straight…”.  From here on the veteran actress chats seamlessly through her life story with songs, jokes and amusing inside stories of other stars including Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Liza Minnelli, Quentin Crisp and Lenny Bruce. For every minute the veteran actress stands upon the stage, Athene-like and proud, the layers of her multifaceted life are peeled back, revealing, beneath the crust of experience, the cheeky, energetic and excitable charm of the little girl.

The intimate space and small audience transports each spectator, or rather participant, into Joan’s living room and onto the sofa as if you were merely popping round for morning tea. You can almost smell the soggy biscuits that have fallen into the cup. Performed without a fancy set and with few and very simple props, the audience are steered away from distraction and plunged into the hypnotic realm of Joan’s story in a monologue that never once becomes boring. Her use of tangents gives the play a colloquial and conversational like quality such as when, halfway through a short story which seems unfinished, she declares “I bet you’re wondering why I lost my English accent”. In these ways she involves the audience in the show in a remarkable fashion. She even calls up a girl from the audience to take the stage as herself while she acts out the story of a famous figure who harasses her after a show. Throughout the show, Joan Shepard gives a brilliant showcase of her talent; partly through the skill in the writing and deliverance of the script, but also the very facts of the story itself. By the end of the play, each of the members of the small audience feel genuinely privileged to have been told her fascinating story.

Author: Ruth Mutton

Ruth loves spending every spare waking moment at interesting gigs, shows, theatres and galleries. She has a particular passion for the smaller, quirkier, well executed displays of art, whichever form they take.