“The success of Handbag has been a career high and the spur to create more work…”
With their The Importance of Being Earnest adaptation arriving in town on Tuesday 20 November, To Hell in a Handbag creators and stars Helen Norton and Jonathan White took some time out of rehearsals to chat about playing the big stages, celebrity lookalikes and, of course, Oscar Wilde himself.
For those of us completely unfamiliar with the show, what can we expect from To Hell in a Handbag?
HN: To Hell in a Handbag takes its inspiration from two characters who appear in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and imagines what they get up to when they’re offstage. It’s not essential to know Wilde’s play to enjoy the machinations of Miss Prism, a governess, and Dr Chasuble, the local Canon, and the nefarious lengths they go to in order to make ends meet!
Why did you choose to focus on these two characters?
JW: We have always wanted to play these characters together but the opportunity never arose. So we decided to take a pro-active approach and create the opportunity ourselves.
HN: But also because we find them fascinating. You learn a lot of intriguing things about them from Wilde’s play but there was huge room for further exploration and that’s what interested us.
What are your proudest moments in your careers so far?
HN: Performing this play has been a very proud moment in my career. A number of years ago I was lucky enough to be involved in a show called Tarry Flynn based on a novel by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh which travelled from The Abbey Theatre in Dublin to The National Theatre in London, and more recently I worked at Shakespeare’s Globe. Performing in both of those theatres was a great thrill.
JW: For me also the success of the Handbag has been a career high and – hopefully – the spur to create more work. I am also very proud to have played a priest in Father Ted and thus to have a true TV classic on my CV.
Who are your heroes (theatrical or otherwise)?
HN: I have lots of heroes so choosing is difficult! Theatrically I admire Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Lesley Sharp, Joanna Scanlan, Maxine Peake – all incredibly strong, honest performers who also have a bit of divilment in them!
JW: Some years ago, I was lucky enough to appear in a production of King Lear with Timothy West. As an actor and as a human being, I found him inspiring and do to this day.
Oscar Wilde is well known for his endless supply of quotes and quips. What’s your favourite?
HN: It’s very hard to choose a favourite quote from Wilde but I do like “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”.
JW: That’s a favourite of mine too. I also like the one we’ve used as an epigraph for this play: “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from lack of imagination”.
If they made a film retelling the creation of your show, who would play the two of you?
JW: I’ve often been told that I resemble Rowan Atkinson so maybe I should give him the gig. But actually, I’d also love to see that consummate ‘Wildean’ Simon Callow in the part.
HN: If a film was made about the creation of our show, I think Dawn French would be fabulous, although she may want to play the vicar and not the governess!
Make sure you don’t miss To Hell In A Handbag here on Tuesday 20 November. Click here for more info and tickets.