Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Interview • ANNA CALDER-MARSHALL • The Importance of Being Earnest @ Oxford Playhouse • 2005

Anna-Calder-MarshallAnna Calder-Marshall knows she has it all. Not because she loves playing Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest under Erica Whyman’s direction at Oxford Playhouse — though she does; not because she is delighted to enjoy a happy marriage to actor David Burke that has lasted for more than thirty years, and produced a son, Tom — though she is. Nor is it because she adores life in Kent where the family have lived for some years since leaving London. No. Anna Calder-Marshall knows she has it all because there was a time when she might have lost all these things through breast cancer.

Certainly the impact of the cancer was devastating, but she has found the positive aspects to be incalculable: an experience like that gives a whole new complexion to life, pinpointing in absolute terms what is truly important. “I learnt an awful lot,” she says. “It’s not the end and life does go on. I get quite angry with people who just say, ‘Oh, it’s the end’, and it isn’t.”

Ethereally beautiful still, Anna Calder-Marshall was born in Kensington, London, to the writer, biographer, novelist and essayist Arthur Calder-Marshall [1908 – 1992] and his wife. She herself was far too fascinated by acting to follow in her father’s footsteps and went on to train at LAMDA. One of her earlier successes was as Cathy Earnshaw in the 1970 film version of Wuthering Heights opposite Timothy Dalton’s Heathcliff. Nowadays, she is relishing the older, character parts, such as Prism. She spoke to me during rehearsals.


“I’d been asked to play Miss Prism before, I think about three times, but it’s always seemed to be either Tom was young and it was at Chichester or it was away. And I’ve always loved her. I had to play her at drama school — I’m not sure it was the whole play — but because I was the youngest in my year, they gave me all the character parts so I was always playing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, rather than Juliet, or funny old spinsters, so I feel I’ve come full circle now I’m getting all these parts I played at drama school!

But this time it was in Oxford, and my father was at Oxford and David was at Oxford, and I came here, I think to do an Inspector Morse, and I just thought: four weeks and it’s for Erica Whyman who’s a wonderful director, and I did Birthday Party with her in Sheffield and had a ball. It opened a lovely door to different kinds of work and I’d go anywhere to work with her, I really would.

What really fascinates me about Miss Prism is the absent-mindedness of somebody who puts a baby in a bag. I’ve actually started writing a diary of her, about the years that she didn’t turn up and what’s happened after because I’m fascinated by what it must have done to her in her head. I think she must be wonderfully absent-minded. I mean, it must be like an illness. That’s my starting-off point.

We [the company] are just very happy with each other and I don’t think it could be bettered, really. Maggie Steed is glorious as Lady Bracknell. And Sally Phillips, who plays Gwendolen, I’ve worked with. We did a trial sit-com together; she asked me to play her mum. And the boys, Dominic Rowan as Algernon and Guy Lankester as Jack, are wonderful, and the young girl Amanda Hale is a girl I saw at RADA and just thought: who is that young girl, she’s utterly brilliant? So we feel very happy.

Erica gives you such extraordinary freedom and trusts you to really use your intuition and your imagination. But she’s highly intelligent and she has a wonderful view of this play and you feel a very firm hand just guiding you. I literally would work anywhere with her because I think that highly of her.

My father sometimes said to me, ‘Annie, why don’t you write?’ And I think I was a bit scathing and I said, ‘But the wonderful thing about acting is that you have your memory and you just dive back in there. If you write something, it gets spoilt because you write about an incident and then it becomes about your brain taking that on rather than your memory. But I always wanted to act and they were very — I mean, I was very lucky to have them as parents because they were so rich in literature and music and artistic things. We used to read plays at home or dance together or whatever. They were wonderful. They were different than other parents and I hope I’ve done the same for our son too. He’s 24 and he’s a young actor and his name is Tom Burke and he’s wonderful, he’s quite extraordinary.

I’m very glad to have got back into character parts because I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me and, admittedly, I had Tom, and I had cancer, and I just worked on real life rather than theatre. And theatre seemed to give me up a bit or I gave the theatre up — I don’t know which way round, and I’m very happy to be back in it.

I was concentrating on bringing up Tom. I got odd jobs which were very nice and I was quite content to work once a year or something. Then my Mum and Dad got very ill and I gave up time looking after them, occasionally wanting a little flutter but nothing happened. And probably the business didn’t know where to put me anyway, do you know what I mean? But I don’t regret one minute of not working because I’ve found other things in my life and I think real life is as important when it’s such a crazy job, and relationships. I’ve still got a good marriage. We were married in ’71 and David’s doing a play at the Donmar, Mary Stuart, which has had rave reviews [transfers to the Apollo on 7 October].

I tell you something I just did at the Gate which I really loved doing. I just did Tejas Verdes by Fermín Cabal, about the experiences of Chilean women during Pinochet’s rule, and we didn’t have any seats — the audience just came and walked into this wood and it was quite extraordinary doing it. It was thrilling, it was something so different. And I did that for Thea Sharrock; Erica used to run the Gate before. Apparently we played it very differently to the first company [A C-M replaced Gemma Jones for the play’s second run this year] but I loved it and, well, it was a privilege to do, to bring awareness to people.

And a man who was Chilean came to see it, who’d been in one of those detention centres, had been tortured. And all of this is described in Tejas Verdes. He couldn’t speak properly because his tongue had been electrocuted. And he hugged me afterwards and he just said how important it was that this had been done. I had to describe this graveyard and he said it was just as it was and that we should continue.

But it was strange because sometimes people were fainting. They all said, ‘It’s all right, Annie, nobody faints during the gravedigger [scene]. And promptly, on the second night, somebody did! And it’s weird to be talking to somebody and then the next minute moment they’re at your feet. I thought, what on earth do I do? Do I continue, and is what I’m saying worse? As I get on, will she faint again? And she was another actress and she came round and she said, ‘Do go on.’ I couldn’t remember what I was going to say! I was so preoccupied with whether what I was going to say was worse or not. But I love doing new stuff in a different way, and to be stretched like that is wonderful.

I paint a lot. I’ve had three exhibitions. I can’t quite believe that! I had to do another play up in Sheffield with a fantastic young director, Jonathan Mumby, who just asked me to do a picture for him as a commission and from that my sister Clare, who runs an art gallery — The Crooked House Gallery [no longer extant] — said, ‘Annie, we could be selling your work.’ I couldn’t believe I was actually selling them because I usually just give them away. To sell them felt better than joining the National! I can paint till the cows come home, I can paint till I’m 99!”

Sarah Vernon © 2005

Originally published on R&V 06-09-05

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

barneyhoskyns.com

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information

beetleypete

The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me

kickingthecat

How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

August is archive month. Posts from the past

P.A. Moed

Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures

creartfuldodger

collage/mixed media artist

My Dad Is A Goldfish

Caring for a demented dad

Scope's Blog

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

Art Studio of a Country Woman

Painting My World with My Heart

e-Tinkerbell

Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me

AT A GENTLE PACE - Bridget Whelan's lifestyle travel blog

for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)

reviewdonkey

My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!

Pen and Pension

Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England

Scleroderma Guy

It's Not A Life Sentence. It's A Life. Sentence

Lives Our Ancestors Left Behind

What were their stories for us?

REDFLAGFLYING

Dictatorship is good. If the Dictator is me.

J.M. Weselby @ Magpie Creative Writing Services

because all writers are magpies at heart...

LibDem Fischer

The world of politics

MovieBabble

The Casual Way to Discuss Movies

CineMuseFilms

Freelance Film Critic

%d bloggers like this: