Glenda Jackson returns to Broadway in all-female play

By Tom Brook
New York reporter

Media caption,
'It's a treat to have the three of us on the stage'

British acting legend and former Labour politician Glenda Jackson has made a triumphant return to the Broadway stage after a three-decade gap.

The 81-year-old actress portrays an elderly woman looking back at her life in the Edward Albee play, Three Tall Women, which co-stars Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill.

Every night enthusiastic fans greet Jackson at the stage door. "We get an amazing response from the audience," says the actress. "They wait outside in the cold to say how much they've enjoyed it."

Glenda Jackson was partly drawn to Three Tall Women because the cast is all-female.

"The opportunity to work with two other actresses is really quite rare," she says. "Contemporary dramatists don't find women interesting. They rarely, if ever, are the dramatic engine of anything. So it's such a treat to have just the three of us on stage."

She has also been taking note of the #MeToo movement, which she believes isn't revealing anything that new.

"If you're talking about this kind of sudden shock that women are abused, I find that bewildering," Jackson says.

"In the United Kingdom, two women die every week at the hands of their partners, usually male.

"I don't remember seeing that on the front pages every week. So this idea that female abuse is limited to certain activities, certain sections of society, is absolute nonsense."

The actress, who is forthright in her opinions, began working professionally in 1957.

She won Oscars for her work in two films, Women in Love in 1971, and in A Touch of Class three years later. But she abandoned acting and ran for Parliament in 1992 as a Labour candidate, winning a seat in north London.

She remained an MP for 23 years before retiring in 2015.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Glenda Jackson backstage on Broadway in 1966 for Marat/Sade

Solidly left-wing in her views, Jackson was long driven by a fierce animus towards Margaret Thatcher and her conservative policies.

No longer active politically, she nonetheless continues to observe the political scene while she's temporarily living and working in President Trump's America.

Jackson believes Mr Trump will be around for a while.

"I think he will almost undoubtedly run for a second term," she says, but she wouldn't be drawn on how she feels at the prospect.

"I am a visitor in this country. So I'm going to side-step that one."

For New York audiences, the focus hasn't been on Glenda Jackson's politics, but her performance. Having her back on the New York stage after a 30 year gap is seen as a major event.

"I suspect she's going to win the Tony Award for best actress in a play," says veteran New York theatre columnist Michael Riedel.

"I think the theatre world is excited that Glenda Jackson is back, and the performance in this great play has prizes written all over it."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Jackson the MP, with London Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2001

She might be held in very high regard and have a career spanning more than half-century, but she still gets incredibly nervous. Acting doesn't get less challenging for her as she gets older.

"Are you kidding me!" she says. "Probably my easiest performance was the first one I ever gave because I was blessed with total ignorance. Every performance now is a life and death situation and that doesn't get any easier."

Each night after the curtain comes down Jackson's fans wait at the stage door seeking autographs and selfies. The actress obliges but she doesn't see herself as a celebrity. She claims people don't recognise her in the street.

"Not at all, not at all," she says. "They don't anywhere, why would they?"

Glenda Jackson has no plans to retire. To her that decision is in the hands of others.

"If nobody asks me to do anything, I will be retired," she says, adding she knows she's been "very, very fortunate".

In 2016 Jackson got glowing reviews for playing King Lear in London, her first stage role after leaving politics.

Now American critics are lavishing her with praise for her contribution to the current New York theatre season.

"Superb," "monumental," "electrifying" are some of the words used by critics in connection with her performance in Three Tall Women. Her return to the New York stage couldn't have gone any better.