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Diana Quick - From Brideshead to Midnight Your Time

Being a mother has helped Diana Quick as an actress, she reckons. As
the veteran English rose who rose to prominence playing the
aristocratic but troubled Julia Flyte in the 1981 TV adaptation of
Brideshead Revisited prepares for her solo Edinburgh turn in Adam
Brace's monologue, Midnight Your Time, Ms Quick can easily put herself
in the shoes of the well-meaning Islingtonite she's playing.

In the play, Quick plays a retired lawyer in search of new meaning in
her life, be it with the women's peace league, the local neighbours,
or, most of all, the life of her daughter, who is on the other side of
the world in Palestine, and with whom she has weekly webcam chats.
While hardly an ideal means of communication, given the play's
circumstances, it's as close, it seems, as they'll ever get.

“Lots of women have said to me that that's the story of them and their
son or daughter for the last five years,” says Quick of reactions to
Midnight Your Time, “and to some extent it's mine as well. Everything
that happens in one's life filters into the work, so I think it helps
me being a mother, even though I've never been in the situation that
the character I play is in, and there's certainly no kind of
estrangement there like there is in the play. But I think it speaks
about something that lots of people go through when their children move
away from home and they don't quite know what to do with themselves”

While Midnight Your Time was written by Brace specifically with her in
mind, Quick initially turned the part down.

“I didn't want to do a one-woman show,” she admits. “I've done one
before, and it can be quite lonely. Part of the fun of theatre is the
fact that it's about a group of people coming together, whereas with
something like this it's just about you and your audience, and no-one's
going to pick you up if you take a wobble. In the end, though, it was
such a good piece that I couldn't say no.”

Unlike the woman she plays in Midnight Your Time, knowing what to do
with herself has never been much of a problem for Quick, ever since she
was taken on school trips from her Kent home to London, where she saw
crucial stage works at the Royal Court and the then fledgling National
Theatre. Quick's parents were interested in drama as a hobby, and,
while they were happy to see her playing Juliet or Beauty in Beauty and
the Beast in a local amateur dramatics group, were horrified at the
thought of their daughter taking acting up as a profession. By that
time, however, Quick had been inspired by watching young people her own
age in the National Youth Theatre.

“I thought, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to do that,” Quick
remembers. “I wanted to go to drama school, but my parents couldn't
understand that if you had to do something then you just couldn't stop
yourself and you had to do it. And that’s how I learnt, by doing it.”

Quick applied to the NYT aged sixteen, and before she knew where she
was she was playing Hermia in a production of A Midsummer Night's dream
in the west end. Other members of the cast included future James Bond
Timothy Dalton and Helen Mirren as Helena, while Bottom was played by
Quick's future husband, Kenneth Cranham.

At university, Quick became involved with drama almost immediately,
“leapfrogged my way into the lead roles,” and ended up becoming the
first female president of Oxford University Drama Society. Quick first
appeared in Edinburgh in a university production of Simone de Bouvoir's
The Woman Destroyed.

An appearance in a Sunday newspaper's colour supplement led to her
receiving what she presumed to be “a casting couch letter” from a BBC
producer. In hospital with jaundice at the time, Quick's eventual reply
led to her being cast as a student in The Playground, a piece by Hunter
Davies that formed part of the BBC's prestigious single drama strand,
The Wednesday Play.

With filming fitted in during her Christmas holidays, by this time
someone had spotted Quick's penchant for comedy, and in 1968 she was
snapped up by Granada TV to be part of the team for At Last It's
Friday, a new satirical sketch show based on that week's news. Earning
the princely sum of 40 GBP a week, Quick would spend the week at
university before getting the train to Manchester to do the show.

If this was her first brush with fame, Quick was happy to give it up to
decamp to London, where she supplemented her income from rep theatre by
crocheting. As a jobbing actor throughout the 1970s, Quick moved
through assorted TV and stage jobs, rising through the ranks until in
1974 she was cast in Billy, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Don
Black's west end musical version of Billy Liar starring Michael
Crawford and Elaine Paige. Quick played Liz, the free-wheeling role
made iconic by Julie Christie in John Schlesinger's film of the novel.

“That changed things for my mother,” Quick admits, “because now she
could bring her friends to see her daughter in a hit musical in Drury
Lane.”

Billy also opened doors to the National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic and
other habitués of the theatrical aristocracy. Quick was also offered
work at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre at the height of its 1970s decadent
glamour, but family commitments prevented her from being able to take
up the offer.

Then came Brideshead Revisited, the languid TV blockbuster adapted from
Evelyn Waugh’s novel, and which, arriving in the turn of the decade
tide of Margaret Thatcher's first term as Prime Minister, somehow came
to define a very old-fashioned idea of England. Appearing alongside
Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, Quick was hailed as one of the most
beautiful women in the world, with the attention catching all involved
by surprise.

“It was a sensation in America,” she remembers, “and Jeremy, Anthony
and I kept on being invited on chat shows and so on. But I had an
accident and smashed my dace up quite badly and took a year out. Even
today people remember it, and I still get men coming up to me saying
they had a poster of me on their wall. Which is strange, because TV's
usually so ephemeral.”

Post Brideshead, Quick avoided typecasting.

“I kept on being offered all these agonised English ladies,” she
recalls, “and I used to fight with my agent about it.”

Since then, with a long-standing relationship with Bill Nighy having
ended in 2008 after twenty-seven years, Quick has played everyone from
Brecht's Mother Courage onstage to the Queen on television, while a
book, A tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage,
explores her Anglo-Indian roots. While expressing a desire to play
Cleopatra, her current passion outside of Midnight your Time revolves
around a documentary film festival in Suffolk she curates.

“Showbusiness is just another way of telling stories,” Quick says, “but
in many instances the true story is much wilder than anything you can
make up.”

Midnight Your Time, Assembly George Square, August 3-29, 5.20-6.20pm
www.assemblyfestival.com

The Herald, August 6th 2011

ends

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