When did you first Act? And what was it in?
My first job was at Frinton-on-sea in weekly rep. We did nine plays over the summer and I got paid £18.00 a week. As well as acting, I also helped with set-painting, recording sound effects and operating the lighting board (badly). I don’t remember sleeping much but I do remember having a hell of a lot of fun.
What or who was your greatest inspiration?
Sometime back in the sixties, I remember standing in the wings at the Palladium, watching my father sing Nessun Dorma, alone in a spotlight on that vast stage. I could also see the first few rows of the stalls and I remember their rapt faces, staring up at him in silent wonder. It seemed like a kind of magic and I thought then that I had to somehow get involved in theatre. Not on the stage – that seemed far too scary back then. It took an English teacher, Mr. Cairncross, to finally get me on stage. Despite my desperate pleading, he had cast me in the comedy role in the school play. Come the first night, I was waiting nervously in the wings to make my entrance. I heard my cue and froze – too terrified to go on. Mr Cairncross came up behind me and shoved me on stage. In my shock and confusion, I fell over. As I struggled to my feet I heard a strange and wonderful noise – laughter. I fell over again – more laughter. A small lightbulb clicked on in my head, This is fun, I thought. I’m afraid it’s been downhill ever since…
What professional training have you had? Do you think it was relevant?
I did the three year acting course at the Central School of Speech and Drama. It was the only drama school I applied to, as RADA seemed far too serious and frightening and the others, to my mind, lacked the requisite kudos (things have changed since then). I was fortunate to be offered a place and all I can say about the course is that I had a ball. I learned how to make myself heard in a large theatre without losing my voice and always to find my light. Apart from that, I have no idea if I learned anything at all – in this business you learn more from experience than anything else – but I enjoyed myself mightily.
What has been your favourite part/play/production etc?
I still think fondly of Mr Gillie, which I did at the Finborough last year, also directed by Jenny Eastop, and in which I played the title role. But it’s not often these days that one gets the opportunity to do two plays in rep. and so this is a fantastic opportunity. The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar is, as I’m sure everyone is aware, a much-loved 18th century comedy, but Indebted to Chance – a new play written by the incredibly talented Charlie Ryall, who also plays Charlotte – is about the life of Charlotte Charke, actress, author, playwright and daughter of Colley Cibber, a famous comic actor who was for some time Actor Manager of the Drury Lane Theatre. The play touches on the appalling way in which women were treated in 18th century England and the frequently critical attitude of society towards those who do not fit the ‘norm’ but is mainly about Charlotte’s struggle to step out of her father’s shadow, to find love on her own terms and to prove herself in a society which saw women as second-class citizens. I’m lucky enough to get to play Colley in Indebted to Chance and Justice Balance in The Recruiting Officer.
What has been the most wonderful thing you’ve seen on the pub theatre circuit?
The Birthday Suit by the brilliant David K Barnes [Old Red Lion Theatre January 2017]. The evening was a total delight.
Pub theatre is having something of a renaissance. Why do think this is?
The West End now presents, for the most part, a thin diet of musicals and star vehicles. And don’t get me started about ticket prices! Pub theatre offers much more challenging, satisfying fare. Since rep companies are now a thing of the past, pub theatre also offers the opportunity for young actors and writers to learn their craft and gives more established actors the chance to play roles they would not otherwise be offered. It is also makes it possible for a family to see a show without having to take out a mortgage.
Where would you like to be in ten years time?
On a beach somewhere exotic, possibly Barbados, with a rum punch in my hand and a season at the National Theatre to come back to.
Tell us something about yourself that nobody else would know?
I’ve always wanted to be a racing driver.
What is the song that most moves you?
My dad singing Nessun Dorma.
Musical, comedy, drama? What would you choose?
Why do I have to choose? I love them all.
The crime you would carry out if you could get away with it?
Digging a secret tunnel into the cellars of Chateau Haut Brion.
The happiest moment of your life?
Christmas in Barbados.
The saddest moment of your life?
My father’s funeral.
What historical figures would you invite to a dinner party?
I thought about inviting Shakespeare, but, like most writers of my acquaintance, he would probably be a poor guest – observing rather than contributing to the evening. Dickens would probably be fun and full of stories, as long as we could find a way to shut him up before he got boring. It might be fun to banter with Oscar Wilde and swap acting stories with Spencer Tracy and Ralph Richardson, and have Dorothy Parker on hand to take down anyone who got above themselves with a well-aimed ascetic barb. I think I would sit Laurel and Hardy at the head of the table. And Noel Coward could provide the entertainment.
How would you like to be remembered?
With my friends and family, enjoying a good meal and a glass of wine.
INDEBTED TO CHANCE by Charlie Ryall and THE RECRUITING OFFICER by George Farquhar are playing at Old Red Lion Theatre 30 October - 1 December 2018
Synopsis INDEBTED TO CHANCE
It's 1744 and Charlotte Charke, actress, writer, landlady, grocer, pig-rearer, puppet master, highwayman, transvestite and daughter of the famous actor manager Colley Cibber, is rehearsing for a production of The Recruiting Officer with her company at the James Street Tennis Courts. The self-titled 'nonpareil of the age' somehow finds herself caught up in a misunderstanding and in debtor's jail. Again. Can Charlotte talk her way out of prison, off the streets and back into her beloved theatre?
Synopsis THE RECRUITING OFFICER
Shrewsbury, 2014. Captain Plume has returned from Syria under orders to recruit for the continued conflict. He is not confident that the prospect of fighting for the good of Queen and country will be reward enough for the unsuspecting locals, so he has to resort to rather more underhand measures. Whilst there, he encounters his old flame, Silvia, who has rather more to test him with than he bargained for.
Written in 1706, The Recruiting Officer gives a no-holds-barred account of the methods and tactics of warfare. In its scathing satire of the lengths to which those in authority will go to obtain what they want, it finds an easy home in the 21st Century.
Andy Secombe with Emma D'Inverno in MR GILLIE
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