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The Killing Of Sister George at Trinity in Tunbridge Wells

By This is Kent  |  Posted: October 02, 2009

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The Killing Of Sister George


Tunbridge Wells

Mention The Killing Of Sister George to most people and they'll think of the 1968 film directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Beryl Reid and Susannah York.

Considered a gay cinema classic now, the film received an X rating and was only given limited theatre exposure. Aldrich spent $75,000 battling the rating, but his lawsuit was dismissed, and the film practically died at the box office.

It seems that, for all the era's talk of sexual liberation, the 1960s weren't quite ready for a black comedy about lesbians.

But The Killing Of Sister George started life as a play in 1964 and, before the graphic scenes were added to the later film, it was a much more subtle tale. The homosexual undertones were only implied and the writer, Frank Marcus, intended it as a farce rather than a serious comment on lesbianism.

Trinity Theatre Company (TTC) have decided to fit their version of the play, showing at Trinity this month, somewhere in between these two takes on the story.

Go! spoke to cast member Emma Sharnock between rehearsals.

"The characters' sexuality is made quite clear. Although, I hasten to add, not as clear as in the film! The film took it to another completely different level. Tunbridge Wells isn't ready for that and neither are we!"

Emma is playing Childie, the younger lover of the lead character, June – an actress in a popular BBC radio daily serial. June's much-loved character, Sister George, is a favourite with the audience but in real life, June is a bitter, hard-drinking, cigar smoking bully who thinks nothing of humiliating and abusing the submissive Childie.

"It's a black comedy," says Emma. "The original was set in the 1960s but we're setting it in the early '90s.

"It's basically about a very well-known radio character called Sister George who, because of her antics off radio, is about to be given the chop.

"She lives with her lover, my character, Childie. And initially you feel a bit sorry for Childie because June appears to be extremely harsh with her but the way that this one's been directed, we've actually changed it slightly. And it all kind of comes back on June in the end. Childie is not quite the angel you think she might be."

With an all-female cast and with Helen Thorpe directing, what does Emma think of all this girl power?

"I quite like it. It's really quite nice not having any men around! Women just get on with it whereas the men tend to be quite distracting."

The play was chosen by Helen Thorpe and Emma says that the cast were happy with the choice, although she admits to having been a little apprehensive at first.

"Only because the film is so well-known," says Emma. "It stirs such massive feelings. Any research that you do on the internet comes up with the film, there's hardly any mention of the play.

"But a lot of people say 'Wow, you're doing Sister George, we'll definitely come to see it'. There does seem to be quite a cult following."

When June discovers her character is scheduled to be killed off, she becomes increasingly impossible to work and live with. Mercy Croft, an executive at the radio station, intercedes in her professional and personal lives supposedly to help, but she actually has an agenda of her own. It all makes for a macabre, gothic kind of story.

Often compared to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and with the fairly obvious parody of the killing of Grace Archer in The Archers, it is the kind of play that TTC do best. It's a bitter sweet comedy that revolves around strong lead performances.

Sister George is seen as less of a comment on lesbianism these days and more a window into the nepotistic world of celebrity, the fickleness of fame and the ultimate destruction of a very real human being in the middle of it.

And with only five weeks to rehearse the play, the cast of four have faced quite a challenge learning all their parts.

"Especially Childie and June," admits Emma. "Sister George/June isn't off stage, bless her. Now that's a lot of lines!"

By Caroline Read

October 6 to 10 at 8pm (3pm matinees on October 7 and 10)

Tickets: £7.50 to £12.50 available from 01892 678678 or book online at www.trinitytheatre.net

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    Alan Bullion, Tunbridge Wells  |  October 07 2009, 4:18PM

    Great to see this historic film in Tunbridge Wells