Review: Testament of Yootha is 'not as engaging as its subject'

Testament of Yootha is about actress Yootha Joyce

Testament of Yootha is about actress Yootha Joyce - Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Angela Singer reviews Testament of Yootha at The Town and Gown in Cambridge.

Testament of Yootha played at The Town and Gown in Cambridge.

Testament of Yootha played at The Town and Gown in Cambridge. - Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Actress Yootha Joyce was best known as Mildred in the television sitcom George and Mildred – but actually the performer had a much wider range than that.

She was hardly off television or movie screens in various roles during the 1970s. She could make people cry and she could make them laugh.

All the while, she hid a secret from her fans. She died of drink in 1980, just after her 53rd birthday.

Actor-comedian Kenneth Williams said that in her final performance she looked as though she was crying.

He also wrote in his diary, much later in April 1988, that she was “a lady who made so many people happy and a lady who never complained".

Sadly, little of this talent is reflected in Caroline Burns Cooke’s one-woman show, Testament of Yootha.

Most Read

Here the actress is represented as coarse, bitter and shrieking. The dialogue includes a great deal of complaining – it is one long lament.

It also includes swearing that feels out of place. It hits like a strike across the face.

Yootha Joyce Needham was born in London in 1927. Her parents Hurst and Jessica were a singer and concert pianist.

Tragically, Hurst’s voice was damaged by being gassed in the First World War. The young Yootha (the name is Maori for Joy) went to grammar school and RADA.

She was in ENSA (the Entertainment National Service Association) which entertained troops during the war. She became a successful actress first on stage with director Joan Littlewood in Stratford East and then on stage and screen.

In the 1964 film The Pumpkin Eater, she played a psychotic young woman opposite Anne Bancroft, giving a performance described at the time as one of the “best screen acting miniatures that one could hope to see.”

She had a talent for comedy that shone out in television sitcoms including Steptoe and Son and On the Buses. She and Brian Murphy created such amusing characters as the landlady and landlord to three young people in the 1970s sitcom Man About the House that a spin-off show was made starring them in their own right as George and Mildred.

Unfortunately, Burns Cooke, though she has written an incisive script, does not impress with the story-telling strength, the comic timing or the singing voice needed to deliver it. The show is not as engaging as its subject.

Testament of Yootha it may be – but a fitting memorial to her it is not.