OT: Annabel Capper in “Sensitive Skin”

[This post is, for the foreseeable future, the last installment from me of clips and commentary on Annabel Capper’s work. Most of it’s been performed on stage, and after looking pretty assiduously, I am now fairly sure that I’ve seen and clipped everything listed on her CV that’s available commercially or digitally. I’ve only seen one appearance that I haven’t been able to identify: the frame sections on her showreel (where she plays a waitress who alternately swears off and then asks for marijuana). If anyone wants to point me to more of her work that I can purchase or steal, please write. Email address in sidebar.]

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Greg (Adam Rayner), the husband of the character played by Annabel Capper in Sensitive Skin 1.4. My cap.

Below you can view Ms. Capper’s entire appearance in Sensitive Skin. It corresponds to the middle section of her showreel, linked above. The entire appearance is a bit longer than the section you saw if you’re familiar with her showreel. There’s also a tiny clip at the end which I’ve added for the sake of completeness — warning to sensitive ears as she does utter an obscenity. If that’s a problem for you stop the tape when the scene shifts from outside the apartment to the interior of a car. Note that imdb credits her association with this program incorrectly — Capper appears only in episode four of series one, not in all of them, and the credits name her as “Greg’s wife,” not “Tammy.”

The context: Sensitive Skin is a series about the “new old age” for wealthy Londoners, broadcast originally in six half-hour episodes on BBC2 in 2005 and 2007, respectively. In their early sixties, Davina Jackson (Joanna Lumley) and her husband, Al (Denis Lawson, whom you’ll recognize as Lord Winchester from RH 2.6 and Leo Argyle from Ordeal by Innocence) have finally pushed their son, Orlando (James Lance — Fréderic Bazille from The Impressionists), out of the nest, sold their house, and moved to a trendy part of London where they anticipate enjoying life as Al’s career winds down. The series was billed as a sitcom, but it’s not really a comedy, although parts of it are funny, or rather, wry.

Episode four begins immediately with the material that starts the clip below. Al is trying to park his vintage car — the car he’s always dreamed of having, and can finally afford — in front of his apartment, when he encounters the woman played by Annabel Capper. This encounter is not explained in the subsequent parts of the episode, which is concerned with the theme of fulfillment, lost youth, and recapturing the things you loved or always wanted to do. Davina and Al visit her sister, Veronica, and her husband, and they’re discussing an encounter with a piano teacher they hired to give the husband lessons, but who spent all of his time coming on to Veronica. Davina is skeptical. She then hires the teacher, Greg, to give her husband piano lessons, but the same thing happens. Turns out that Greg, who looks to be about thirty, or the same age as Orlando, is wrestling with the same problem — creeping responsibility (job, wife, house, children) that prevents him from living life to the fullest. Indeed, Greg does admire older women, and comes on to Davina as well. Davina, who’s been struggling the feeling that she’s failed to live up to her potential, discovers she likes being come on to after an outing to the British Museum with Greg to look at artefacts he’s excavated, and this fact becomes a plot engine for later events in the series. Al discovers Greg’s activities with Davina, and decides to pursue him. This is where the second portion of the clip below picks up. Davina accompanies him to try to stop him, but Al tracks Greg down to his suburban apartment, where he knocks on the door and discovers the character played by Ms. Capper, apparently Greg’s wife.

Ms. Capper again has a slightly different accent on — at the beginning of the piece I thought it had some northern English vowels, especially the “a” vowels, but I am sure that British readers will precisely identify it for us here in the former colonies (grin). (Thanks in advance, British readers!) I think it’s important to consider the entire performance in understanding what she’s doing here. When I saw her showreel the first time, I thought, “why is she in all these very strident roles?” and wondered if she was being typecast because she’s tall and not slight — she has a body that says “power” even at a glance. At the beginning of the episode, her appearance is so over the top — an apparently unprovoked misanthropy that we’re likely to attribute, as Al does, to a stereotypical reading of second-wave feminism — but all we have to do is see her for the seconds at the end of the episode to change our reading. She’s just as strident, as the language of her response to Al indicates, but the context changes everything. Now she’s the woman trapped in a suburban household with two small children and a roving husband who clearly sees her, and his family, as a weight pulling him under water. In both senses, I find Capper quite effective, and once again this is a completely different role than the others in which we’ve seen her.

This role, while it involves an actual character (as opposed to her appearance in EastEnders), is of course entirely instrumentalized as a means of showing something about Al to the viewer, and the point here is not sympathy with Greg’s wife, but the way that we are to understand Al’s reaction to finding this woman behind the door as he seeks to confront Greg. What I like about this moment is that it’s not entirely clear what it is that Al is concluding. Perhaps it’s that he has sympathy for Greg because Greg’s wife is so shrewish; or perhaps it’s a moment of self-recognition as he remembers being a hard-working father in the suburbs who felt that his youth was slipping away from him; or perhaps it’s sympathy for her because he knows that Greg is unfaithful; or perhaps it’s a combination of these things.

To conclude, that’s what I loved about Sensitive Skin, which became a collateral attraction — I watched all twelve episodes, and in case you’re interested, it’s available via Netflix — because of its reflective quality. It’s not a comedy, nor a soap opera, though it has features of each, but rather a sophisticated meditation on what it means to lead a fulfilling life, and this is a theme relevant not only to what was probably the target demographic of the show (middle-aged and elderly people dealing with the very different experiences of aging nowadays) but also to people my age (on the cusp of middle age). It intersected with questions I’m asking myself now about how I will feel about pragmatic choices I’m making now when I’m older. The conclusions the characters draw as they deal with the inevitable experiences they have, however, are never closed. Often you see them struggling to deal with situations, and particularly with the lessons they think they should already have learned. Sometimes they can’t deal. But the show neither moralizes nor trivializes their problems — it simply observes. It’s a real gem. I’m thankful that because of my interest in Ms. Capper’s work, I got to see it.

~ by Servetus on April 5, 2011.

13 Responses to “OT: Annabel Capper in “Sensitive Skin””

  1. It’s taking forever for the vid to buffer (I would choose to buy an entire album with 18 songs on iTunes with my slow connection, wouldn’t I?) but from what I have listened to so far, Servetus, I would say the character sounds as if she is possibly Australian rather than of Northern English extraction to this admittedly untrained American ear.

    It looks like a pretty interesting show. I am fond of Denis Lawson (I remember him from Star Wars, the first thing I guess I saw him in) in spite of his turn as the odious Winchester–and of Joanna Lumley as well. Once again we have a case of Richard indirectly creating a new interest . . . in this case, following Capper’s career. Oh, the influence he has on us and just doesn’t know it . . .

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    • That was the first thing that struck me was that she sounded Australian in some words that she used but in many cases Londoners can sound Australian or should that be the other way around, the UK being the “Mother Country” as it were. To me there is no hint of a Northern English accent. I think it would be a good show too, Angie, and I liked how Annabel acted in this clip. I’m trying to think of the name of the costume drama that Denis Lawson played in. The girl who was Betsy Higgins in N&S was in it too. Oh where has my brain gone tonight? Can someone remind me? Yeah, Richard has an amazing influence on quite a few of us if he but knew it :)!!! Oh! Just remembered, the costume drama was “Bleak House”!! I guess my brain is working at least a little!!

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  2. Yes, and Denis was very good in Bleak House, too. I own it on DVD (I DO actually invest in stuff Mr. A isn’t in, although it would all be much better if he were in it LOL)

    @Teutcher,

    OK, so I was on the right track at least with the accent 😀 If you recall from our offblog group discussion, MillyMe commented my Cockney accent had shadings of Aussie and Kiwi in it. At least I didn’t sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins! Great actor, very funny man, but he does a terrible English accent 😉

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  3. She’s definitely doing an Australian rather than an English accent, but since I’m English I can’t say whether she is doing it well or not…”Sensitive Skin” was delightful.

    Anyone remember Denis Lawson in the wonderful “Local Hero”?

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    • Yes ! Me and Mr AJ love Local Hero and have it on DVD. Thanks for all these Annabel Capper clips Servetus. She’s really good isn’t she ?

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    • I can’t believe I didn’t recognize Denis Lawson from “Local Hero”!! Maybe it was the grey hair!! I loved that movie and the wonderful characters in it. When you’ve lived in a small village you understand even better what life is like in places like that – very laid back and unhurried and full of quaint characters. I really loved listening to Fulton Mackay’s accent as he managed to sound so “Highland”! I also have the DVD although, come to think of it, someone borrowed it and hasn’t returned it yet! I have been in Pennan, the village known as Ferness in the movie and although I haven’t actually been in either Morar or Arisaig where the beach scenes were filmed they are so typical of many of the beaches in the North West Highlands of Scotland where I lived for many years that they seemed very familiar to me.

      @Pam. You’ll notice at the end of my first comment that I did finally remember it was Bleak House.

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  4. I guess I am going to have to check out “SS.” Yes, I do remember “Local Hero.” I would like to see that again . . .

    The last cruise I was on the assistant cruise director was an Aussie and I talked to her on a few occasions and heard her on stage and her accent reminded me a lot of Annabel’s in the clip. Come to think of it, she even looked a bit like Annabel . . .

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  5. Yes there are definately shades of Aussie in there. Actually, perhaps intentionally, she manages to sound like an Aussie who has lived in the UK for a good while and picked up a lot of English pronouciation.

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    • She seems like the sort of actor–like RA–who would work such a detail into her characterization–Australian-born, but current accent shaped by time in London . . . she certainly continues to impress me.

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  6. Aha, I knew that you British readers would set us straight. To me a lot of her consonants, particularly toward the end of the first part, sound like London, but I didn’t know what to do with the “a”, e.g., in “car,” which for me was not a London sound. Australian fits with what I understand about that accent.

    Loved “Local Hero.” Had forgotten he was in it — which makes me happy.

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    • I think “car” was the first thing that sounded really Aussie to me.

      @Fitzg,

      I did hesitate to post first because I have spent all of five days in England and zero days in Australia, but I do have a decent ear for this stuff so figured I would throw my two American cents worth in with the disclaimer 😉

      I wonder if Annabel’s distinctive and non-cookie-cutter good looks (again, a similarity with RA) have possibly worked against her in getting more and larger roles? I agree, she has a great face and voice and she is clearly versatile–but sometimes the casting directors and producers perhaps don’t think enough outside the box (Case in point. Laila Rouass. Pretty, yes. Believable as a doctor and Lucas’s long lost great passion? Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaah).
      It’s certainly not for a lack of talent she isn’t getting larger roles.

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  7. Thought it was more “Aussie” than English, too, but as I would have been the first commenter, best to leave to those who acutally grew up in England. Rather than one who has lived there at seminal points, and is losing the “ear” for accents…

    In any case, Ms. Capper has a marvelous face, and voice. She sounded more mezzo than contralto in this segment? Another chameleon? Nothing wrong (except for constant struggle) in being a working actress. But she appears fully capable of larger roles, instead of bits here and there.

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