Insight into a literary icon

Lynda Baron plays Stevie Smith's aunt in  Hugh Whitemore's award-winning Stevie at the Minerva Theatre.
Lynda Baron plays Stevie Smith's aunt in Hugh Whitemore's award-winning Stevie at the Minerva Theatre.
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The Minerva Theatre, Chichester opens its season with Hugh Whitemore’s award-winning play, Stevie, which explores the life of writer Stevie Smith – a literary figure who was well loved but not well known.

Lynda Baron, who famously played Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in the BBC comedy series Open All Hours (1976–1985), plays Stevie’s aunt, in fact her ‘lion aunt’, as she is referred to in the play.

‘It really is a marvellous play,’ Lynda says. ‘It’s such fun. He really has written about a person who is so fascinating. Stevie Smith has been slightly forgotten until you quote her and then people will say “Oh yes!” But she was fascinating. She lived at a time when women were more down-trodden... when women were perhaps not so individual. And yet she was a great individual. She was artistic, and she was clever.

‘And she lived with her aunty. Her lion aunt. The aunt is a very no-nonsense type character, very determined. She is not at all intellectual and doesn’t understand all this stuff about poetry terribly well. But one of the things that Stevie Smith says is “I love my auntie, and auntie loves me”. They were so different. Aunty was a bit of normality in Stevie’s extraordinary world where her imagination flowed in all directions. Stevie’s intellectual life was incredible.

‘Stevie did get depressed at times and tried to commit suicide once and was then very sorry. But it is very difficult to do that depressed artist business if you’ve got a large lady in the living room saying “Don’t be so silly!”

‘Stevie was ill much of her life. She had TB as a child. The aunt is there really as a safety blanket, but really the play is about Stevie’s relationship with the world.’

Stevie comes to the Minerva Theatre, from April 24 to May 24. Tickets: £24 to £33. Call (01243) 781312 for details.