THE question “where are they now?” might fairly be applied to Kathleen Turner, who effortlessly dominated female roles in Hollywood throughout the 1980s, including her famously sexual debut Body Heat in 1981 and a successfully recurring double act with Michael Douglas which began with 1984’s Romancing the Stone. The short answer is, she’s right here, presenting a life-story-with-music which is both frank and impassioned.
Kathleen Turner, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ***
The long explanation for her whereabouts is more complex than that, and the tale she relates of her rise and fall opens a window upon the life of a female Hollywood actor of Turner’s generation, who had to trade on her youth and vitality as much as her acting ability. By the start of the 1990s, Turner was beginning to be offered lesser, older roles (John Waters’ dark comedy Serial Mom was a favourite, she says), yet it was the unexpected onset of paralysing rheumatoid arthritis at a young age which really waylaid her career.
“I went from doing my own stunts to being told I’d never walk again,” she said here, the 63-year-old’s famously husky voice deepened by an apparent sore throat, and the version of Send in the Clowns which followed was appropriately dramatic. That’s little surprise, because when new drug treatments put her illness in remission, Turner reinvented herself for the new millennium in smaller roles for television and the stage.
Amid a set of smoky showtunes backed by her live trio, Turner’s reminiscences are the real box office. She speaks warmly of befriending Dame Maggie Smith at the stage door while she was playing The Graduate in London (“I got a script which described a character as ‘37 but still attractive’,” she spat to loud applause, “which pissed me off so bad I decided to go nude onstage at 48”) and of her enthusiastic current activism for causes including Meals on Wheels and Planned Parenthood. “I am angry about the politics in my country,” she sighed, “but I’m an optimist.” Her life is evidence of that.