Patricia Routledge in Three Portraits (review)

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Patricia Routledge, one of Britain’s most beloved actresses — her “Hyacinth Bucket” character from the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances is practically a national institution — and playwright Alan Bennett, one of the premiere names in contemporary British theater, have teamed up several times on one-woman shows. Three of them, originally produced for BBC television, are gathered here: “A Woman of No Importance,” “A Lady of Letters,” and the Peabody Award-winning “Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet,” which aired in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theater. In all of them, Routledge inhabits desperately unhappy women who endeavor mightily to convince us their lives are more than what they are, concoctions of sad, tiny ambitions and pretenses to grandness and significance — they might be women to despise, or at best to ignore, but Routledge’s performances turn them are poignant, even tragic, softening Bennett’s keen, critical eye. Some of the pieces date from the 1970s and 80s and aren’t quite as crisp as the more modern productions, but that’s barely a distraction. Bonus material includes a one-act play by Bennett starring Routledge and Hugh Lloyd and an interview with Bennett and Routledge discussing their work together.

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