An Epithet from the Audience

PlayBlog   An Epithet from the Audience
At the Sept. 18 matinee performance of the Shaw Festival's production of Noël Coward's The Astonished Heart — one of ten plays in the Ontario festival's ambitious mounting of Coward's collection of one-acts known as Tonight at 8:30 — a passionate theatregoer spat an ugly word at a character. Most everyone in the 327-seat Court House Theatre heard it — including, of course, the cast.

[caption id="attachment_1496" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Claire Jullien in The Astonished Heart
Photo by David Cooper"]Claire Jullien in <I>Ways of the Heart</I>Photo by David Cooper[/caption]

The incident came in the climactic scene of the 1936 domestic drama about a good wife, Barbara (played by Laurie Paton), who gives her conflicted husband permission to have an affair with her old school friend, Leonora (played by Claire Jullien). Making her solemn entrance from another room, in a highly charged moment in which grief and anger hang over all the characters, Jullien was met with a single word from a playgoer: "Slut!"

"At first I was completely shocked," Jullien told "I'd heard people commenting on the action of the play before, but I'd never been so directly and vehemently assaulted! For a split second I felt I'd been personally attacked, but in my mind I came immediately to the defense of my character, Leonora. It spurred me on as the actress in the scene and made those last few moments with Laurie really thrilling, quite intense and 'in the moment.' As an actor, one always strives to be 'in the moment'! Offstage, during the intermission, when I had time to think about and assess what had just happened I felt a bit angry at the woman — but then thought that she'd obviously been terribly moved and affected by the piece. This must mean that we were doing our jobs well! I tried to not let it affect my experience with the other two one-acts we were putting on that afternoon — I wanted this woman to see that I was just an actress doing a job and that Leonora was only one of three very different women I was portraying. I wonder if she stuck around to see the rest?"

Tonight at 8:30 continues in rep with other modern classics at the Shaw Festival, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, through Nov. 1. Visit

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