This one-woman show is compelling, moving and funny. Led deftly by the skilled Meg Lloyd, we are treated to moments from one of the most-well known lives in history: Katharine Hepburn. The story is told in two parts; the first act is Hepburn the actress, dealing with the career issues that go along with being labeled ‘box office poison.’ The second is Hepburn as a woman, looking over her life, the love of her family and her lover Spencer Tracy.
Enter Meg Lloyd dressed in a white shirt, high coiffed hair, lipstick and huge heels.
We are led down the stairs into a beautifully decorated dark room. A mahogany leather chair sits next to a side table with a family photograph and a vase of flowers. Ella Fitzgerald plays as we sit and wait for the show to begin. Enter Meg Lloyd dressed in a white shirt, high coiffed hair, lipstick and huge heels. She says a few words to an off-stage maid (a recurring moment in the play that allows for a little comedy), enters the room and her address to the audience begins. Lloyd is a mesmerizing and confident performer, whose Hepburn impression, though not a perfect imitation, is strong enough to convincingly suggest the icon herself. There were only a few moments where the sharp New England accent wavered, but this is a forgivable mistake, particularly if you consider the notoriety and idiosyncrasy of Hepburn’s unique drawl.
There are many knowing nods to the audience, particularly at the beginning as Hepburn frantically makes phone calls to find out if she’s been chosen for the role of Scarlett O’Hara. The use of audience knowledge reinforces the level of familiarity that we have about Hepburn’s life. The power of the dialogue lies in the moments that demonstrate Hepburn’s fragility - a far cry from the public perception of the fast-talking, mannish woman.
The transformation in age from young Hepburn, to a much older and unwell woman is impressively done. Lloyd manages to suggest the passing of time through hairspray and a walking stick, but also an additional creak in that familiar voice. The second act was immensely moving, and the revelation of a younger brother’s suicide brought a tear to my eye.
Lloyd’s self-assured manner and charisma gives this play immense control. A performance that tells a firsthand account of a Hollywood life has the potential to be a hammy send-up, but due to a very strong and poised actress, Tea at Five manages to be an effective and emotive piece of theatre.