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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Anita Dobson

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 13th Mar 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


Anita 40s.jpg

Ex-EastEnder Anita Dobson talks to Steve Burbridge about playing Joan Crawford, her professional motivation and why she’s never regretted leaving Albert Square.

It seems difficult to believe that Anita Dobson played Queen of the Vic, Angie Watts, in EastEnders for just three-and-a-quarter years. Somehow it seems much longer. Perhaps this can be attributed to the cult status that the character has since achieved, After all, the tempestuous marriage of Dirty Den and Angie made EastEnders  the BBC’s most successful programme ever and attracted record viewing figures of over 30 million.

When she left Albert Square in 1988, Anita’s departure even made headlines on the Six O’Clock News, so wasn’t it a rash decision to quit the soap at the peak of the character’s popularity?

“No, not at all,” she says. “I didn’t do too much soul-searching before I left EastEnders - I’m a great believer in instinct. For me, the whole point of being an actor is that you get the chance to do lots of different roles. I’d played Angie for long enough and I wanted to try different things.”

Indeed, since leaving EastEnders, Anita has tackled a wide variety of roles, garnering critical acclaim for her work on the stage. She has appeared in classic plays by Chekhov, Molière and Shakespeare and starred in smash-hit musicals including Hello, Dolly!, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago. She enjoys not being typecast.

“My career is healthy, varied and exciting,” she says. “I like being a glamour queen but I also adore the other extreme – being serious and totally unmade-up.”

So then, her latest role – which sees her playing Hollywood legend Joan Crawford in Bette and Joan – must have been a wish fulfilled?

“Well, when you’re asked if you want to play Joan Crawford you don’t really think about it twice,” admits Anita. “You just run and grab it because it’s a dream and as good as it gets for an actress.”

Written by Anton Burge, Bette and Joan tells the story of the fractious relationship between Bette Davis (played by Greta Scacchi) and Joan Crawford. Both their careers had hit rock bottom when they were paired together for the filming of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich’s thriller about an ageing ex-Vaudeville child star who wages a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister. The stage play lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes highs and lows and the tantrums and tiffs between two of Hollywood’s greatest superstars as their 30 year feud reaches boiling point.

Hailed by the critics as ‘funny and sharp’, Bette and Joan is making its regional debut in Darlington fresh from an acclaimed run in London’s West End. Anita can barely contain her enthusiasm as she talks about reprising her role in the touring production.

“For me, it’s a dream to play someone who was my icon,” she reveals. “I grew up, as a child, watching all those Sunday afternoon matinees on my Mum and Dad’s little telly, weeping and laughing along with all of them.”

It’s obvious that Anita also has a huge amount of respect for both Davis and Crawford.

“Both of them were quite tenacious,” she says. “Bette was a formidable actress who’d come up through the ranks and she knew her stuff; she knew a good part when she read it; she knew what she could make of something, and she knew how to do it. Joan was a self-made performer and a really smart, sussed businesswoman. She came from nothing and had been a gawky, goofy, strange-looking girl who clawed her way up from the wrong side of the tracks, got herself a role in a musical, and created the beautiful movie legend that she became.”

However, in the golden age of Hollywood, it could often be something of a challenge for women to maintain their profile as they grew older.

“You had to have something that sold you, in order to stay at the top,” Anita explains. “So they both developed, from quite beautiful young things, into really strong character actresses, almost becoming caricatures of themselves in a way.”

And could their infamous rivalry have been exaggerated for publicity purposes?

“I think everything does become exaggerated with time, especially in the press,” says Anita. “But I do think there was a rivalry between them, definitely. There was a competitiveness derived from the fact that they were both of a similar age, and would find themselves being put up for similar roles and vying for the same parts. How great the rivalry between them was nobody really knows but, of course, it’s more fun to think it was worse than, perhaps, it actually was.”

That said, the pair certainly engaged in a game of one-upmanship during the filming of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

“The things they got up to in an attempt to outdo each other were ridiculous and almost childish, at times. So intent were they on bettering each other that the play is hilariously funny, at times, and there is an element of campness to it.”

Throughout the play, only Anita and her co-star Greta Scacchi appear on stage. It’s a huge undertaking for just two performers to carry a full length theatre show, but also a fantastic challenge.

“A lot of the dialogue is monologue,” explains Anita. “We only have four scenes where we play together and the rest of the time you’re cutting in and out of each other. You’ve got to be aware of the other actress but you’re not actually playing to her. There’s a great joy in owning the stage and being able to really strut your stuff, but along with that comes a big fear and you’ve got to stay so focused because there’s a lot to get through, it’s a big piece. It’s scary but it’s great fun.”

Bette and Joan is at Darlington Civic Theatre from Tuesday, March 27 until Saturday, March 31. Performances are at 7.30pm each evening and at 2.00pm (Thursday) & 2.30pm (Saturday). Tickets cost from £20.50 to £25.00, with a special two for the price of one offer available on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings only. Concessions are available at certain performances. To book, call 01325 486 555 or log on to www.darlingtonarts.co.uk . For additional information visit www.bettejoantheshow.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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