Losing Louis Hampstead 2005 Sheila
The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband West End 2002 Hilary
Entertaining Mr. Sloane Bath & tour 2000; West End 2001 Kath
Horse and Carriage Leeds 2001
Love on the Dole (reading) National 2000
The Memory of Water West End 1998 Teresa (with Julia Sawalha) nominated for Olivier award–—Best Actress
The Provok’d Wife Peter Hall Company at Old Vic 1997 Lady Fancyfull (with Victoria Hamilton)
When We Are Married Chichester & London
Virtuoso Ipswich 1996
Marvin’s Room Hampstead & London 1993
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice National and West End Mari Hoff
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof National 1988 Mae (with Barbara Leigh-Hunt)
Kafka’s Dick Royal Court (Drama magazine award–—Best Actress)
Tartuffe Royal Shakespeare Co. 1984 Elmire (also on video)
May Days Royal Shakespeare Co.
Cinderella and Her Naughty Naughty Sisters Hammersmith Widow Peahen
Joking Apart Globe
Abigail’s Party Hampstead Theatre, London Beverly
Uncle Vanya Hampstead 1979 Sonia
The Sea Anchor/Wholesome Glory Royal Court, London
The King Shaw
The Pope’s Wedding Exeter
The Jaws of Death Edinburgh 1973 (devised by Mike Leigh)
Othello Nottingham Desdemona
A Handful of Dust Hammersmith
Travesties Nottingham
Soft For a Girl Liverpool
The Fish in the Sea /The Foursome Everyman, Liverpool
Black Comedy Stratford 1970
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Lincoln Sandy
Roots Lincoln 1969
Gavin and Stacey 2007
Twisted Tales, ep. "Fruitcake of the Living Dead" 2005 Margery
Grumpy Old Women at Christmas 2004 narrator
The Worst Week of My Life 2004 Angela Cook
Dalziel and Pascoe: The Soft Touch 2004 Marion Mattis
The Lenny Henry Show 2004, Series One, Show 2
Bosom Pals 2003 voice of Joan
French & Saunders 2003 Harry Potter and the Chamberpot of Azerbaijan Prof. Minerva McGonagall
Witness: Maidens of the Lost Ark 2003 narrator
Love and Death in Hull 2003 narrator
Essential Poems: Talking in Bed 2003 reader of Being Boring by Wendy Cope
Essential Poems: Wild Nights 2003 reader of It’s Only Love by Sheenagh Pugh
Celeb 2002
Johnny Casanova 2002
Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairy Tale 2001 Mrs. Meisling
Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years 2001 Pauline Mole
Happy Now 2001 Bronwyn Race
Lenny Henry in Pieces 2000 (with Lucy Robinson, producer)
Fat Friends 2000–2004 Betty Simpson
Let Them Eat Cake 1999 Mme de Plonge
Late Lunch 1998 herself
Stressed Eric 1998 voice of Mrs. Perfect
Profile—Funny Women: Alison Steadman 1997
The Missing Postman 1997 Christine Peacock
Rory Bremner, Who Else
Six Sides of Googan—The Curator
No Bananas 1996 Evelyn Hamilton
Karaoke 1996 Mrs. Haynes (with Anna Chancellor)
Cold Lazarus 1996 Mrs. Haynes
Kavanagh, Q.C. ep. “Nothing But the Truth" Eve Kendall (with Anna Chancellor and Annabel Taylor)
Coogan’s Run 1995, ep. “The Curator" Annette
Crapston Villas 1995 voice of Marge Stenson
The Wimbledon Poisoner 1994 Elinor Farr
Gone to Seed 1992 Hilda Plant
Gone to the Dogs 1991 Lauren
Selling Hitler 1991 Edda Goering
Newshounds 1990 Jackie Johns
The Finding 1990 Mum
Monster Maker 1989 Perriwinkle
Virtuoso 1988 Brenda Ogden
He’s Gone
Our Flesh and Blood
Esther Waters
Nature in Focus
Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective 1986 Mrs. Elizabeth Baxter Marlow
Coming Through 1985 Kate (with Lynn Farleigh and Benjamin Whitrow)
Tartuffe 1984 Elmira
Play for Today: The Muscle Market 1981
Play for Today: Pasmore 1980
A Small Mourning Marjorie Withers
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
The Finding
Play for Today: Abigail’s Party 1977 Beverly (Mike Leigh)
Z Cars 1976 77 WPC Bayliss
Play for Today: Nuts in May 1976 Candice Marie (Mike Leigh)
The Wackers 1975 Bernadette Clarkson
Tarbuck and All That! 1975
Two’s Company ep. "The Silence" 1975 Pamela
Oil Strikes North 1975, ep. "First Lion"
Play for Today: Through the Night Christine Potts
Play for Today: Hard Labour 1973 Veronica (Mike Leigh)
Frost’s Weekly 1973
Without Walls: Degas, Pissaro Fall Out
Santa’s Last Christmas voice of Mrs.Whatnot
Mirabelle and Me 2005
You’ll Have Had Your Tea—The Doings of Hamish and Dougal 2004 Mrs.Naughtie
Classic Serial The Book of Love 2003 Mrs. Hazlitt
Word From Cupid 2003 Lolly
Gilbert Without Sullivan 2003 Dolly in The Finger of Fate
Stage Mother, Sequined Daughter 2002 Fay
So Long Life 2000
Cousin Bette 2000
Mrs. Pepperpot 1999
Dumbstruck 1995
The News Huddlines
Week Ending
Audio Books
Kafka’s Dick BBC
Confetti 2005 Sam's mother
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers 2004 casting agent
D.I.Y. Hard 2002
Chunky Monkey 2001 Beryl
Bob the Builder: A Christmas to Remember 2001 voice of the Mayoress
Jack and the Beanstalk 2000 voices of mother and Veronica
Topsy Turvy 1999 Mme. Leon (Mike Leigh)
The Ugly Duckling 1999 voice of the hen
Secrets and Lies 1996 dog owner (Mike Leigh)
Do You Remember the First Time? 1994 herself
Blame it on the Bellboy 1992 Rosemary Horton
Life is Sweet 1990 Wendy (Mike Leigh) Society of American Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics—Best Actress award
The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt 1989 Eva Wilt
Shirley Valentine 1989 Jane
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen 1988 Daisy
Stormy Monday 1988 Mayor
The Short and Curlies 1987 Betty (Mike Leigh)
Clockwise 1985 Gwenda Stimpson (with Benjamin Whitrow and Peter Needham)
A Private Function 1985
Number One 1984 Doreen
Champions 1983 Mary Hussey
P’Tang Yang Kipperbang 1982 Miss Land
Portrait 2001
Alison Steadman
Mrs. Bennet

When the producers of Pride and Prejudice offered the part of Mrs. Bennet to Alison Steadman, they had a pretty good idea of what they were going to get. Steadman is well known in Britain for her portrayals of loud, vulgar, over-the-top characters. The most famous of these is Beverly in Abigail’s Party, a TV film made in 1977 by her then-husband, Mike Leigh. “Snottily intrusive, monstrous and pathetic, patronizing to a degree that would legally justify a murderous rabbit-punch to the back of the neck,” Beverly epitomized the suburban snobbery, social ambition, and greed for material things that characterized the 1970s. So embedded in the British consciousness is this performance that when Steadman recreated the role at the National Theater twenty-two years later, in an abridged performance, the audience stood and cheered.

Abigail's Party
Abigail’s Party

But Steadman’s gallery of grotesques is not universally appreciated. There are critics who find her work strident, excessive to the point of caricature, and judgmental. But she bristles at accusations of cruelty. “I set out to entertain, to amuse, and part of that becomes something that’s being said about our lives, and our society,” she said in a 1996 interview. “But I’m not setting out to be cruel and brutal, I’m setting out to reflect life, put a mirror to it, by creating characters and saying ‘look!’ . . . If we were all terribly wholesome, portraying people who are upright and safe, it would be so boring. You can make people laugh and move them and make them think, all at the same time.”

Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Entertaining Mr. Sloane

It was a talent for mimicry that made Steadman, the daughter of a Liverpool clerical supervisor, decide at age nine to become an actress. Her father wanted her to train as a secretary in order to have something to fall back on, so she took a job in a probation office. But at age 20 she sneaked off to audition for the East 15 drama school. The audition report said, “Worth training, will blossom.” At East 15, in Essex, she learned the Stanislavski “method” and met a young director named Mike Leigh. After several years of work in youth theater and repertory, she got a recurring role in the popular TV series Z Cars. A second meeting with Leigh resulted in a fruitful partnership, both personal (they were married in 1973 and have two sons—Toby, born in 1979, and Leo, born in 1981) and professional. They have made six films together, including Hard Labour (1973), Nuts in May (1976) and the famous Abigail’s Party (1977), which actually originated as a stage play. Steadman’s portrayal of Beverly at London’s Hampstead Theatre won her Best Actress awards from both the Evening Standard newspaper and Plays and Players magazine. “Mike opened the door for me," Steadman told an interviewer in 2004. “He told me that I wasn’t a dolly bird but a character actress. When I got my OBE, I told him that it was largely due to the work I’d done with him. The work was our joy, our life.”

  Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya, with Ian Holm and Nigel Hawthorne

Abigail’s Party established her as one of the leading character actresses of her generation, and one who was willing to take risks. In the 1970s, she appeared nude on television and performed British TV’s first lesbian kiss. And then there were the films with Leigh, whose unorthodox working method keeps actors from seeing the entire script in advance and emphasizes improvisation. She is best known as a comedian, in TV series like Gone to the Dogs, No Bananas and Let Them Eat Cake, and plays such as Alan Bennett’s Kafka’s Dick (which won her Drama magazine’s Best Actress award) and Cinderella and Her Naughty Naughty Sisters, in which she played Widow Peahen. But she has also won acclaim in serious dramatic parts. In 1993 she played Bessie, “a selfless, dowdy Florida spinster who has devoted the last 20 years of her life to looking after her chronically ill father and a delightfully dotty aunt” in the British premiere of the off-Broadway hit Marvin’s Room. “Steadman can rarely have been as touching as she is here,” wrote Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph, “soldiering on in the face of exhaustion and refusing to give in to despair. It is hard to make simple goodness dramatically interesting but Steadman brilliantly succeeds in the task.” Her performance as Sonya opposite Nigel Hawthorne’s Uncle Vanya and Ian Holm’s Dr. Astrov in 1979 led John Barber in the Telegraph to write, “Alison Steadman, as the pathetic drudge who dotes on Astrov, plays with extraordinary truth. The interpretation is remarkably physical.” More recently (1998–99), she appeared in Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water in the West End (playing Julia Sawalha’s sister!), and John Gross wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, “Alison Steadman in particular achieves wonders in a long, progressively boozy aria—in whisky veritas (though the home truths she delivers aren’t all that truthful.)”


The creation of which she is proudest, however, is of the mother in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, for which she won the 1993 Olivier Award for best actress. She admits to being disappointed when the producers of the film version passed her over in favor of Brenda Blethyn. “When you are nominated for an Oscar, you get a Golden Globe, and are named Best Actress at Cannes, as Brenda was, you become sellable as a film actress,” she said in an interview with the Evening Standard in 1999. “It was very sad for me and I was very upset, but you have to get over these things. You can be sure I’ve done the same to someone else by usurping their part. Resentment is not what life is about. I’m a friend of Brenda’s, I’ve known her for 25 years, and you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done. You can never say ’I’m famous now,’ you can’t live on your past achievements. It’s tomorrow that matters, not today.”


Losing Louis, with Brian Protheroe and Lynda Bellingham

Steadman and Leigh separated in 1995 when she moved in with the actor Michael Elwyn, who played her husband in the TV series No Bananas. She and Leigh divorced in 2001, though they remain friendly; she attended his 60th birthday party in 2003 with Elwyn and her sons (Toby is now an illustrator and Leo an aspiring filmmaker). An outspoken critic of Thatcherism and the Tory Party, she has also been active in the anti-fur farming movement. On New Year’s Day 2000 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, and in 2003 an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex. In 2004 she and Crispin Bonham-Carter directed productions at her old drama school, East 15 Acting School. “It’s an age thing,” she says. “At my age, I’m looking at expanding things. I had always said I would never, ever direct because I never had the confidence in the past to even think I could do things like that; it’s only now I’m in my late fifties that I’ve begun to think in those terms. I was asked and asked to go back to my old drama school, East 15, to direct the students and I suddenly ran out of excuses, so I did three rehearsed readings of a one-act play and put it on with basic props. As soon as I did it I wondered, ’Why didn’t I do this before?’ I loved it, absolutely adored it, so I’m going back there to do some more directing in January. And now that I’ve got a taste for it, I would like to make a short film — and I’ve already got an idea for a documentary.”

Adrian Mole
Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, with Stephen Mangan
Singing Detective
The Singing Detective, with Patrick Malahide
"I could never see myself giving up acting because my favorite place of all is on stage in a show; thats where I feel most at home, when I can listen to the audience and play them. Thats my happiest time ever in life."

Coming Through
Steadman in 1974
Photo credits: Portrait—Starstock/Photoshot; Abigail’s Party and Adrian Mole—BBC; Uncle Vanya—; Losing Louis—Marilyn Kingwill/ArenaPAL; Singing Detective—Dave Edwards; 1974—Steve Wood/Express