With its suggestions of lesbianism, The Killing of Sister George provoked quite a scandal when it toured the provinces in 1964.
Director Gill Lambourn is expecting it to have considerably less shock value when she brings it to the stage for the Regis Players from December 6-8 at 7.30pm in Felpham Village Hall with Sue Bartlett as Sister George and Deborah Addicott as Alice (Childie). Tickets via www.regisplayers.com.
“When it first came out, it was so shocking that there were tales of people refusing to serve the actresses in local shops and there were lots of censorship problems.
“The leading lady is an actress called June who has a part in a radio saga set in the country which is basically like The Archers. June plays Sister George in the series. She has the main story in the series and everybody loves Sister George.
“But she is rather what might have been considered at the time an archetypal lesbian in those days. She is quite butch and talks about having pints with the boys… and there are complaints about her. She has jumped into a taxi drunk.
“There were two novice nuns in there. She attacked them and the Mother Superior writes and complains, and there have been other complaints about her tipping a pint of beer over someone’s head.
“She is rather badly behaved and rather butch and I guess all the things you would have thought of a lesbian as being back them….
“And so they decide to write her out of the series. That’s the whole idea of The Killing of Sister George. It is about how she takes it when this rather straight-laced BBC woman comes to break the news. June is an alcoholic, I guess, and she takes it very badly.
“She has got her lover who is called her flatmate who she keeps very quiet.
“Her lover’s real name is Alice, but June calls her Childie, and Childie behaves like a little girl and she has dolls. It is very much that era’s view of what she is. She is kept away from the BBC and her friends, and nobody talks about the flat mate.
“The show had these awful things happening when it was in the provinces, but when it got to the West End it was a big success and it went to Broadway.
“Beryl Reid played June and Eileen Atkins played Childie, and then it was made into a very successful film with Beryl Reid and with Susannah York playing Childie which was also hugely successful. Beryl Reid had been very much known as a comedian, and this was very much a big straight acting role for her even though it was still very funny.
“I had seen the film which was 1968 and then I directed it about 15 years ago. And then I had forgotten all about it, but I was just chatting and there was someone at the Regis Players that I thought would make a great June – and that was Sue Bartlett. I started looking around and I started thinking that I could cast it. I think it is a play that stands the test of time.”
And it is all coming together very nicely, helped by great back-stage support through the Regis Players, Alex Marner (set and lighting) and Judy Watts (props) in particular: “They are doing a great job.”