The fascination with President Kennedy's assassination continues to be a potent source of films, books and plays. It featured in Sam Mendes' production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins in the early nineties and is at the heart of Keith Reddin's play which opens on March 14.
Dallas, Texas, and a church hall in Kennington are as far away from each other as you can get, but in a rehearsal room in South London, Margot Leicester spoke to Theatrenow about her role in Keith Reddin's Frame 312, a drama that is part of the Donmar's American Imports series and deals with the continuing appalled fascination with JFK's assassination.
Can you describe your character and the predicament she finds herself in? "I play a woman called Lynette, and although she and what happens to her is fictional, she is based on a real-life person. Lynette is a middle-aged woman with a suburban family and lifestyle who one day, over a barbecue, tells her family the secret that she has kept for thirty years." And this is to do with President Kennedy's assassination? "Exactly. She worked for Time Life magazine, the people who first had the now-famous Zapruder home movie of the assassination, in which you literally see the President being killed. The central plot of Frame 312, which relates to part of the Zapruder film, is that the FBI, who demanded the original, were only given a copy; that the original still exists and that - as Lynette knows - it proves there were more than one gunman involved - that it was a conspiracy."
What particularly attracted you to the role? "It's a very well-written play, in which Keith Reddin deals with people's relationships within a family as well as the wider issue of the assassination and the politics associated with it. It's also, despite a serious theme, often very funny, and it's not at all preachy."
There's still a huge amount of interest in Kennedy: Why do you think this is? "It's partly because the 1960's were such an exciting time, when people really thought things were getting better, that they could change, that politics and ideals went together. Also that whole Camelot thing, despite all the books about the reality behind the myth, is still very powerful as an idea, and the way it ended, with Kennedy being killed on camera, has been seen so often, and is still so shocking, that it's entered people's subconscious. Just as, I'm sure, that constant playing of the footage of those airplanes slamming into the World Trade Centre has."
Why do you think contemporary politics and other major modern issues often seem better suited to American plays than British ones? "It's largely a question of scale, I think. America is so vast, so diverse, that it seems to lend itself to big issues."
There's nothing vast about the Donmar, however - its a very intimate venue. How do you feel about playing there? "The size actually suits the play, which works so well because despite being issue driven, it's also a domestic drama where national politics intersect with everyday lives and concerns. Also, like most actors, I like the idea of being able to communicate so closely with an audience. Whenever I see a play there, especially if I'm sitting downstairs, I feel really involved with the actors and the drama, and I'm sure the same will apply when I'm onstage. Also, I've worked quite a lot at the Young Vic, which — although a larger space — similarly requires, because of the thrust stage, that actors perform in 3D as it were. There's no proscenium barrier, and you are aware of having to act to at least three sides, if not wholly in the round, and I find that a great challenge."
It's a challenge that Margot Leicester is clearly up to, and Frame 312 is likely, given the Kennedy connection, to be one of the most popular of the Donmar's wide-ranging American Imports this season.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow