MAGGIE Kirkpatrick describes Sailor Beware, the play in which she
stars at Marian Street Theatre this month, as "one big, long, mother-in-law joke
-which would probably anger feminists today".
"Remember, it's a 1955 play, and so the attitudes are of that time," she
It was written the year Kirkpatrick graduated from high school in
"People of my generation fought long and hard to get rid of those
attitudes," she said, "but we also must look back at what was - as though we're
doing Restoration comedy, where we'd have to research what people were like in
"I just happen to remember what people were like in 1955."
She said that to enjoy Sailor Beware, a younger audience should approach
it from the level that it is 1955 humour. For Kirkpatrick and her contemporaries
that is unnecessary.
"They will laugh with recognition," Kirkpatrick said. "Some of the younger
audiences will think, 'Oh God, did people really go on like that?' But we will
also have people in the audience who will remember an auntie who was like Emma.
"There is an older clientele up there and they'll remember that."
The classic English comedy is about the wedding of Emma Harnett's only
daughter, Shirley. Emma, played by Kirkpatrick, is the archetypical interfering
The bridegroom, a sailor, is constantly plagued by Emma's "you know what
sailors are like" comments, and there are traumatic scenes with the spinster
aunt, jilted 20 years ago, who lives with the Hornetts.
All the ingredients of vintage 1955 working-class comedy are there: the
downtrodden husband who escapes to his backyard hobby; the flighty, flirtatious
niece; the ever-present next-door neighbours.
Most of all, the play is entertainment.
"People think it's always got to have a message," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm
not a teacher, I'm not an educator - I'm an entertainer, I'm an actor.
"And that's what I love about Marian Street. You can have a jolly old time
and see good stuff that gives you a good night out."
This is Kirkpatrick's third appearance at Marian Street. The first was in
1979 in The Druld's Nest, then there was Absurd Person Singular in 1986.
Kirkpatrick is probably best known for her television role as the prison
warden in Prisoner, a role she laments at times.
Although the show ended in 1986, she still receives fan mail from
countries where Prisoner is shown.
That role was only one in more than 25 years as an actor.
"I've had some lovely experiences," she said, "having the sheer joy of
working with Sir Michael Redgrave, and watching him work, and learning so much
from him in A Voyage Round My Father."
Other highlights were co-starring with Nancye Hayes in Robyn Archer's
Sideshow Alley at the Paris Theatre, and two Patrick White plays, A Cheery Soul
and The Ham Funeral.
"Sadly, I suppose, there are umpteen people out there who think that
it(Prisoner ) is all I've ever done, but I do know there are others who know
about the theatre work as well. That's the saving grace.
"It would be terrible going to the grave being remembered for one
The most important things in Kirkpatrick's life are her close friends, her
family, her two-year-old grandson and doing a good job.
She is passionate about things that appal and anger her, such as the
hopelessness of the drought-affected farmers and families coping with the
Kirkpatrick, who is often cast in strong roles, seeks out the vulnerable
in every character.
"You can't just play a strong, commanding sort of character," she said.
"You've got to show another dimension to them."