Felicity Kendal is no Mrs Good in this risque romp of seductions and scandal inside a not-so-respectable British family
ETHEREAL is a word that comes to mind when you think of Felicity Kendal. For some of us, she will always be the cherubic Barbara Good from the mid-1970s television series The Good Life. It made her a household name, and face, in Australia.
There is much more to the 67-yearold actor’s resume, of course, but it’s for their screen roles that we tend to best remember people.
More recently, we got to know Kendal in the 22-episode, rather genteel crime series Rosemary & Thyme, in which she played the gardening detective Rosemary Boxer. But it’s The Good Life that made her name and she doesn’t mind – although she is quick to scotch any idea that she was like that character.
Kendal is heading to Brisbane next month to star in the Noël Coward comedy of bad manners Hay Fever, and when she describes it as a play that is “light and silly but has hidden depths” you wonder if that is some sort of metaphor for how we might have mistakenly seen her.
It’s hard to get the good-natured, elfin Mrs Good out of our minds, but we must – and for a very sound reason.
“Barbara Good wasn’t a real person,” Kendal says.
The baggage of being Barbara Good has been with her throughout a long and successful career. Last year, this was brought into sharp focus when Kendal was starring in Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. Kendal caused something of a sensation at the time by being more candid than most about her past.
She is also revered in Britain, for her role as Barbara Good alongside Richard Briers, who played her screen husband, Tom Good.
The Goods were trying to live a selfsufficient lifestyle, one that conflicted sharply with that of their neighbours, the Leadbetters, played famously by Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington.
Briers’ death, early in 2013, gave Kendal pause to reflect and talk about her love life, which includes three marriages and a time with playwright Tom Stoppard.
She is now married to theatre director Michael Rudman, with whom she split during her time with Stoppard.
When she was being quite candid about all this in 2013, London newspaper the Daily Mail asked the obvious question in a headline: What would Barbara Good say? This showed how the role that made her still resonated decades later.
As Kendal pointed out, though, she isn’t Barbara Good, so it doesn’t matter.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel grateful that her character is so loved and remembered in Australia, and she assures us she won’t mind being recognised as Barbara Good when she’s here.
“I mean, as an actor you want to be looked at and appreciated, so it’s a nice thing,” Kendal says.
But, of course, there’s so much more to her than that. And, in a way, that Cowardian ploy of the attractive veneer hiding deeper meaning is quite pertinent.
In Hay Fever, Kendal plays Judith Bliss, matriarch of the Bliss family. She’s a onceglittering star of the London stage who is now in early retirement, still enjoying life and looking for a bit of drama.
To spice up her weekend she has invited a young suitor to join her in the country.
It just so happens that her egocentric novelist husband and two of their eccentric