Interview with Critics' Circle Award winner Glenda Jackson

Glenda Jackson King Lear

Yesterday the Critics' Circle Awards recognised another fantastic year of London theatre with productions such as Groundhog Day and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child honoured for their creative contributions over the past twelve months. One of the most prestigious titles awarded at the ceremony is the Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance, which this year was won by Glenda Jackson for her performance in King Lear at the Old Vic Theatre.

Speaking to Jackson ahead of the ceremony, which took place at the Prince of Wales Theatre in central London, the double Academy Award-winner and ex-Member of Parliament commented that she was pleased with the recognition, stating “I've been very rude to the critics in the past and the critics have been very rude to me, so we can consider this kiss and make up”.

Aside from her incredible theatrical contribution, her opinions were also sought on the current political situation in the United States, in particular her thoughts on President Donald Trump's proposed State Visit to the United Kingdom later this year.

“It's deeply depressing” she replied. “The only thing one can take out of what's been happening over the past couple of days is that the true special relationship is between the British people and the American people who are saying in no uncertain terms to their respective governments these are not our values, this is not what we believe in, let's think again, let's hope they will. I'm extremely proud of what we've been doing in this country. America is a country which has always treated me with enormous generosity and kindness and welcoming – to see them turning out on the streets, there's the special relationship, those are the values that matter.”

Jackson became an MP for Hampstead and Highgate in 1992, arriving in politics after an impressive acting career that took on numerous roles on both stage and screen including the films 'Women in Love' (1969) and 'A Touch of Class' (1973) for which she received the Academy Award for Best Actress. She retired from politics in 2015, returning to acting after a 23 year absence, but her political opinions and strength of character, particularly her debating skills have been missed by many in the House of Commons.

“We seem to have lost the capacity to simply debate with people whose opinions we don't share” she explained, commenting on the role of discussion and discourse both inside and out of the Commons. “This ease with which people opt for being abusive and dismissive is not the way forward because the kind of rumblings that we're seeing at the moment we're going to see continuing in Europe. Politics is not meeting the demands and requirements that the electorate want and that is a very salutary lesson. It's no good wasting valuable learning time by being abusive or just agreeing with people who are on the same page as you – that cannot be the way forward.”

Returning to the stage after a period away would be a challenge for any performer, but for Jackson, whose first stage role after a quarter of a century absence was the role of King Lear was certainly an impressive feat. Whilst her performance was met with unanimous critical praise there were some within the theatre community including the writer Ronald Harwood who claimed that women playing male Shakespearean roles was "astonishingly stupid".

“I think the gender bender question has gone”, Jackson replied. “What is really important is I've been away from it for 25 years and I was moaning when I left at the lack of how creative writers don't find women interesting – they're always adjunct to the male driving dramatic ages. I come back after 25 years and it's exactly the same situation. Why do creative writers find women so boring, or stick us in some kind of homogeneous box like we're all the same? Partly I suppose because that is still the prevailing view nine times out of ten. Think, a woman is a success and it is deemed to be that she is the exception to her gender rule. A woman fails and it just proves that all women are essentially failings. I see no change in that at all.”

Rather than encourage more gender-swapped productions, Jackson firmly commented that she would prefer writers to simply create more original and exciting roles for women.

“I would advocate more writers finding women interesting and really see that we're not this homogeneous group that you can stick into a box – we ain’t!”.

Speaking of the future of King Lear she commented that the production was currently looking at a hopeful Broadway bow in the very near future.

Read all the winners of the Crtics' Circle Awards 2016

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