Posting Letters to The Moon – Celia JohnsonMarch 2, 2017
Posting Letters to The Moon is a poignant reading of the war-time letters between British film star Celia Johnson and her husband, Peter Fleming. Celia was dealing with wartime life and later preparing to film what would become one of her most famous film roles, Brief Encounter (1945) at the time, and Peter was away in India.
“Today being Sunday we went out to look for little bridges for the little scene on the bridge & went all round the lakes & up & down the hills & it was simply lovely. There was stickled snow lying on the hills with a lovely bleak look & little black stone walls running across the bottoms of them & clouds hiding the tops. The lakes were grey & sombre. I didn’t know this part of the country was so beautiful.”
I spoke to Celia Johnson ‘s daughter Lucy, who will be performing in Posting Letters to The Moon, about the letters and her memories of her mother.
A scene from Brief Encounter
Genevieve Jones: Could you tell me a little bit about the play?
Lucy Fleming: It isn’t so much a play as a reading but it takes the audience back to the War years – 1940-45 and is very evocative of those times. Through the letters between my mother and my father (Celia Johnson and Peter Fleming) we learn about the hardships of war and the adventures they both had- he away in India for most of the war working in deception- (his brother was Ian Fleming who created James Bond) and she, struggling to manage a large household full of evacuated children- she became an Auxiliary Police Woman, learnt to drive a tractor, struggled with rationing and also became a film star- much to her amusement.
The story culminates in her filming Brief Encounter and tells of her thoughts while she was doing that. My husband Simon Williams ( well-known for many theatre and TV performances and also Justin Elliot in the Archers) reads my father’s letters and I read my mothers.
GJ: The letters must be a very treasured memory of your parents’ private life and show their characters. How did you decide which letters to include? Did you end up editing them to shape the narrative or did you find that they made sense as they were?
LF: It was very very difficult to decide which letters to use- I did have to edit them a little – obviously I didn’t want to include some of the more personal ones- but I found that they had a story arc as life got tougher through the war and although they didn’t tally that much date-wise, they show by that what the war was like. There are many more -all wonderfully descriptive and interesting and I am still adding and shaping.
GJ: What was it like to have a film star mother? Was she very glamorous? And did other people recognise her in the street or did she prefer to keep a low profile?
LF: She was a wonderful mother and not a glamorous film star at all- that amused her – she loved acting in film TV and theatre which is where she made her name and was not interested in the trappings of being a star.
GJ: Do you have any memories of going to theatre and film sets with her or special events?
LF: I remember going with her when she won a BAFTA and going to Buckingham Palace when she was awarded a C.B.E. and later when she became a Dame. Those were fun and happy occasions. The trigger for my acting career was watching her on stage from the wings of the Theatre Royal Haymarket when I was about 10 or 11 and being totally entranced in the magic of Theatre.
GJ: Finally, of course Brief Encounter is probably Celia Johnson ‘s most famous film, but which of her films or performances are your personal favourite?
LF: I loved watching her doing comedy on stage- she was brilliant in Hay Fever at the National Theatre and in Relatively Speaking – Alan Ayckbourn’s first play- but my favourite has to be Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter- it always makes me cry- it is the subtlety and truth of her performance I think.
Posting Letters to The Moon will be performed at:
- 7.30pm Wednesday 1st March: Dukes Playhouse Lancaster, studio theatre The Round
- 7 for 7.30pm Thursday 2nd March: Carnforth Station Heritage Centre
- 7 for 7.30pm Saturday 4th March: Glenridding Public Hall- optional 1940’s dress code, with a prize offered for best outfit
- 6.30 for 7pm Sunday 5th March: Alhambra Cinema Keswick, with screening of “Brief Encounter”
- 7 for 7.30pm Tuesday 7th March: Ennerdale Centre
You can find out more and buy tickets for this affecting slice of Celia Johnson’s life from Postingletterstothemoon.com
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