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The Review - FEATURE
Published: 27 November 2008
Patricia Quinn
Patricia Quinn
Back on stage, but ‘Magenta’ will never kiss her Rocky role goodbye

As she returns to her stage roots, Patricia Quinn tells Simon Wroe why the Transylvanian rock opera is ‘forever young’

MY reputation in this town is ruined,” whisper the world’s most famous lips. Patricia Quinn, the owner of the lips, rolls her eyes and groans dramatically.
Every day for the past fortnight she has been outside The Washington pub in England’s Lane at 10am prompt, waiting to be let in. The neighbours, she fears, are beginning to talk.
But Quinn’s early bird pub visits are not for liquid refreshment: the star of the film, stage show and ­cultural phenomenon, The Rocky Horror Show, is rehearsing in the basement for a new play at the Jermyn Street Theatre. This week, however, the lips which grace the walls of a million teenage bedrooms will not be wearing their traditional gaudy red lipstick. In her latest role, Quinn is playing a man. A leprechaun man, to be precise.
Written by the Dublin-born playwright Peter Dunne, The Dreamers of Inishdara is a tale of magic and fairies among the bungalows and nouvelle ­cuisine restaurants of Ireland BCC (Before the Credit Crunch). For Quinn, who has featured in I, Claudius and Doctor Who, it’s something of a return; her first new role for nearly eight years, set in the country of her birth.
Quinn, or Lady Stephens (she accrued the title by her marriage to the acclaimed actor, the late Sir Robert Stephens) is a histrionic lady of 63 with a shock of flame-red hair. When she talks of Ireland her accent shifts from Primrose Hill grande dame to Belfast brogue. She gestures grandiosely, eyes agog, as though she cannot comprehend the horror of Boris Johnson or Ian ­Paisley, on whom she claims to have based her leprechaun character.
The transsexual Transylvanian rock opera never stops for Quinn. A few years ago she reprised her role as the kinky gothic maid Magenta at the ­Royal Court after the show was voted the theatre’s best production of the past 50 years. She regularly attends huge Rocky Horror conventions in America.
“The show is forever young,” she says. “When I saw my first male Magenta it was quite a shock, but nothing seems odd any more.”
The daughter of a notorious Belfast bookie, Quinn left Ireland at 17 to seek her fame in London. She ended up working as a bunny girl at the newly opened Playboy Club while attending drama school. As a young aspiring actor she would admire Stephens “from the Gods at the Old Vic. He was a panther of a man; his work consumed him”.
Their paths crossed when she acted alongside him in the Anthony Shaffer play, Murder. The love affair began almost immediately.
“Robert was wild when I met him. He swept me off my feet. It was rather shocking because I was married at the time,” she says, adding by way of explanation, “but we went to Brighton.”
“Nobody knew. Only my ­husband. I used to have two ­husbands for Christmas Day, two men to carve the turkey.”
Eventually, she and her husband, the theatre producer Don Hawkins, ­separated. She and Stephens married in 1995. Sir Robert had a reputation as a drinker and philanderer who was famously intimate with Marlene ­Dietrich among others. A regular in the Queens boozer in Regent’s Park Road, he would also take Quinn for long weekends at Sandringham – “King Lear would hang up his paper crown and ­Magenta would hang up her fishnets and we’d go to Victoria’s house.”
Quinn partly contests his legend, though.
“He wasn’t rebel-rousing,” she says. “He was very much a gentleman. He liked a drink, but who didn’t?”
Stephens died of cancer 11 months after their marriage, but Quinn believes their time together has given her new confidence.“I was never bored with Robert. I could never get a word in edgeways. Since he died,” she pauses, looking mock-serious, “I haven’t stopped talking.”
The Dreamers of Inishdara is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until December 13.
Box office: 020 7287 2875

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