A Review by Angela Churm
7th March 2002
(The author retains copyright of this material. Please do not copy or repost without permission).
Tea at Five is a dialogue with the audience. And on Friday night the audience werenít talking. Which left Kate having to carry the whole evening alone.
I had never realized before quite how much an audience's response or lack of it matters to a performer. I saw the play three times. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fridayís audience was very quiet and unresponsive. But why? It puzzled me. Particularly after seeing the performances on Saturday and Sunday. The lines were the same. The movement was the same. Kate Mulgrew took them on the same emotional journey that she would those other audiences. Yet the response wasÖabsent. Kate must have sensed it. And maybe it played on her nerves a little.
It is after all a tremendous undertaking to be the only actor on stage for two hours. You have nothing to fall back on. No other performers to share the load. The responsibility is yours and yours alone. You have to carry people with you. And she does. Why Fridayís audience seemed so unresponsive I donít know.
I felt sympathy and an identification with some aspects of Hepburn that I didnít even know about before the play. I was angry for her, sad with her, at other times feeling that I wanted to comfort her. I still got all of that from Friday. It wasnít even that the audience didnít enjoy the play. They did. I heard the comments at intermission. Every one favorable. All praising Mulgrew's performance. They even gave her a standing ovation at the end.
I guess at the end of the day. Some audiences are just quiet. But it has to affect the actor deeply when they canít feel the audience going with them. I was proud of Kate that night for completing that particular performance with such style and panache. When many other actors would have crumbled.
Saturday was another day altogether. I will admit to being a little concerned at the beginning, knowing what a grueling schedule Kate had completed that day before the play, and worrying how it was going to affect her. All I can say is that Saturday nightís performance was electric. She was amazing. My stomach twisted, my eyes burned with tears. I laughed. I almost cried. She got to me in a big way.
Kate has said that she isnít as comfortable with the younger Hepburn as she is with the older one. But on Saturday night she had it! She got it. She nailed it. It was spot on. It was perfect. Why? She relaxed into it. She didnít try to control it. She went along for the ride. And she enjoyed it, you could tell. In contrast to Friday night, on Saturday with an enthralled and captivated audience Kateís energy on stage was magnificent. She came alive. She was larger than life. She was energized and vital. The audience and the actor fed each other, and consequently both enjoyed the sumptuous meal that Kate served up. It was as if something had clicked into place on Saturday. And certainly at that performance her portrayal of the younger Hepburn was every bit as compelling and intriguing, poignant and funny as her portrayal of the older Hepburn in the second act.
Kate endowed both women with a magic that brought them to life in front of me. I really felt that I was looking at the same woman years apart. In the second act she conveyed the sense that this older Hepburn had grown, had actually lived those intervening years in the short intermission. We traveled through time with Kate Mulgrew as our guide. And it was totally believable. I was immersed. I was convinced. With every fibre of my being I felt for what was happening, what had happened to this character on stage. I cared. Kate made sure that I did. You couldnít watch her and not be moved by her.
The nuances Kate used to share this emotional experience were subtle. A look. A twist of the mouth. The tears in her eyes. The pain in her voice particularly when she was talking of how Hepburnís father had reacted to her brotherís death and what he had done. Then I cried. Ever tried to cry in a theatre without making any noise? Not easy.
And Kate was totally engaged with the audience Saturday and Sunday. When she looked in your direction in her dialogue with the audience you felt that she was talking directly to you. It was like you were listening in on a private conversation. But that you were meant to be. She owned that stage. For those two hours she owned us. Several times people almost stood to give her an ovation during the play. Prolonged applause too during the actual performance.
It was as close as Iíve ever seen a theatre audience come to rising to their feet during a play at the end of the montage in the second act when Kate fell to the floor and the lights went out.
There were gasps of amazement and appreciation in realization of what she had just accomplished. In seconds running through a gamut of emotions, hitting her mark, changing direction. It was breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. It was pure magic.
Kate was intense, compelling, vulnerable, funny and whimsical. Her comic timing was impeccable. Her sense of the dramatic heartrending.
It speaks volumes that I saw the play three times in succession and I hated to leave. I wanted to go back and see it again. I still want to go back and see it again. Each time I got something slightly different from it.
I had never seen Kate Mulgrew on stage before this weekend. On TV she was amazing. I can only say that on stage amazing becomes absolutely incredible. I have never seen anyone whose performance is so truthful, so keen, and so present in the moment. So aware and so moving. Any awards that she wins for this performance aside she should know that as her audience I have never been so moved in theatre as when I was engaged with her performance on that stage. I felt I experienced something really special. And Kate Mulgrew is.
I flew the Atlantic to see it. If you have to move the earth to get to see her on stage do it. It is worth every moment. It is an experience of pure theatre that will spoil you for anything else you ever see. And that put simply is down to Kate Mulgrew.
© Angela Churm 2002.
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