Interview: Penelope Keith, actress

Penelope Keith
Penelope Keith
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‘I’M a bit of a Scotophile. I have a house on the Black Isle, so I’m in Scotland quite a lot and think Edinburgh is just the most beautiful city. I love walking through...”

Penelope Keith pauses, thinks for a second, and with just a hint of trepidation asks, “How are the trams? The last time I was there, taxi drivers were tearing their hair out.”

Horrified to discover that York Place is now all but closed, the actress still best known to millions as Margo Leadbetter in The Good Life, continues, “It’s not!

“You know, I remember my husband and I sitting in a cafe on George Street and seeing a bus goes past every 30 seconds. We literally timed them. We were left wondering why Edinburgh needs trams. It has one of the best bus services in the world.”

It’s the million dollar question, but her mind is put rest - a little - when she discovers most of Princes Street is now open again.

Keith returns to the Capital next week to star in a new production of Keith Waterhouse’s classic comedy Good Grief, at the King’s Theatre.

Adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name, the play tells the story of June Pepper, recently bereaved widow of the editor of a tabloid newspaper, as she discovers there is far more to life than death.

Following her late husband’s instructions to keep a journal of her feelings, June finds that grieving is not the straightforward process she had imagined, especially when she finds herself surprisingly drawn to a stranger she sees wearing her husband’s suit.

It’s a role the actress knows well, having first played June Pepper a decade ago.

“I did it when Keith was still alive and I wanted to have another crack at it,” she reveals. “The last two plays I’ve done were restoration plays, in corsets and wigs, and I thought, ‘Oh let’s do something modern now.’ There aren’t that many new plays around, so I thought I’d like to try Good Grief again. It’s a very hopeful play and gives a fascinating insight into a woman’s mind, really.”

Keith, who last appeared at the King’s in Blithe Spirit, is joined on stage by Jonathan Firth and Christopher Ravenscroft and muses, “I always used to say when I was on television that I prefer to be on stage and when on stage I prefer to do television. Typical human condition.

“For a long time I was lucky enough to do both at the same time - even when doing Good Life and To The Manor Born I was usually in a play at the same time or within the same year, but then, actors of my generation, when they trained, they trained for the theatre.”

Good Grief, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (mats 2.30pm), £14-£27.50, 0131-529 6000