Do you mind if I smoke...?
Phoenix Artist Club
Fenella Fielding is one of those English actresses who just keep going. She may not be as sprightly as she used to be but her voice is still husky and sultry when she wants it to be, her glances as wickedly scathing. This isn’t a play but, after 65 year in show business, Fenella is spilling the beans by telling her own story.
In the intimate atmosphere of the club under the Phoenix Theatre, she faces a packed house. At first, unusually, she seems just a little bit nervous. That’s perhaps because this isn’t a role that she’s playing: it’s herself and the lines are her own, an impromptu presentation of choice material from her memoirs which are about to be published (16 November from Peter Owen).
It is all very personal, more gossip (she likes gossip) than theatrical history, and it goes down well with the audience as she talks about early days in Edgware and then as an innocent performing in nightclubs. One punter wouldn’t believe she lived at her smart Mayfair address so she took him back to show him her shabby attic bedsit, then said thank you for walking her home and saw him out without ever realising what he was expecting; next day, the girls in the dressing room told her she could have earned a small fortune by walking on his tummy in high heels!
There are confidences too that aren’t quite so innocent before she reaches the audition that lead to appearing in Valmouth, the Sandy Wilson musical that brought her to public notice, followed by Pieces of Eight, a review with Kenneth Williams that had Peter Cook and Harold Pinter among its writers.
There are stories about Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon, a picture of swinging London and of Peter Cook at the Establishment Club and her shows there. For this presentation, she concentrates on the '50s, '60s and '70s and when she opens things up for questions they too concentrate on those early years with questions about her Carry On films and her voicing the Announcer in the '60s series The Prisoner.
Sadly this presentation told us nothing about her more serious work in the theatre. Perhaps there will be more about that in the book, also titled Do you mind if I smoke... It is written in collaboration with long-time friend Simon McKay, who also helps field the questions at the Phoenix. There is also an audiobook version already available at www.fenellafielding.com.
The book is published just one day before her 90th birthday—can't you just hear the sigh as she blows out all those candles?
Do you mind if I smoke…? has further performances at this venue on 28 October, at the Homotopia Festival in Liverpool on 4 November and at Crazy Coqs on 23 November.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton