WHEN it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe, Diana Quick has pedigree. She made her debut in the city as an 18-year-old undergraduate performing on the Royal Mile with the Oxford Revue in a show directed by Michael Palin. She remembers her impression of Marlene Dietrich going down well. "It was enormous fun and I met lots of people who I still know," she says.
She was back again in 1992 with her own sell-out adaptation of Simone de Beauvoir's The Woman Destroyed. Two years ago, she was at the Book Festival after the publication of her family memoir A Tug on the Thread. She has only happy memories of the place.
So the actor who played Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited and, more recently, our very own monarch in the Channel 4 docu-drama The Queen is delighted to be back on the Fringe, even if she's a trifle alarmed at being in a one-woman show. "It's much more challenging when there's only you," she says. "You have to be very on the ball."
Nervous or not, Quick, 64, is in the privileged position of having a play specially written for her. As a sponsor of the HighTide new play festival in Suffolk, she got to know Adam Brace, a 31-year-old writer starting to make a name for himself. He wrote Midnight Your Time with her in mind. "Adam is a very interesting playwright," she says. "He's a real talent."
The play is about a retired lawyer whose controlling instincts are put to the test when her daughter takes up a five-year contract in Palestine. Their only contact is via weekly Skype conversations, which only intensifies the mother's helplessness at a point when she is still adjusting to retirement. "It's a subject that speaks to people," says Quick, whose own daughter, the actor Mary Nighy, is in her mid-20s. "It's the problem of parents letting their children go and letting them be whoever they want to be. It speaks to both the parent's generation and the child's generation. I was just as bad at that age; I wanted to get as far away from the family as possible."
In the play, the mother is a lobbyist, while the daughter believes in direct action. But the play is not about the particularities of the Palestinian conflict as much as the idea of seeing your offspring put themselves in any kind of danger. As such, the preview performances have been striking an emotional chord with parents. "One man came out with tears running down his face, saying, 'That's my relationship with my son,'" she says. "There are things that really seem to touch people, that they recognise."
Glad to be in a play that raises the question of the invisibility of older women, Quick is all too aware of the paucity of roles in Britain for her generation. At the same time, she is not the type to be defeated by it. "Life continues to be interesting," she says. "There's enough to keep me focused."
WHERE & WHEN
MIDNIGHT YOUR TIME
Assembly George Square,
3–28 August (not 8, 15, 22), 5.20pm.
Tel: 0131 623 3030
© Mark Fisher 2011
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