20 Questions With...Annette CrosbieDate: 23 August 2004
Actress Annette Crosbie - who's currently starring in The Night Season premiere at the National - regrets the decline of the rep system, empathises with her character in an ageist society & gets passionate about greyhound welfare.
Although best known for playing Victor Meldrew's long suffering wife, Margaret, in the TV comedy One Foot in the Grave, Annette Crosbie's career has embraced theatre, film and television.
Crosbie's theatre work includes The Trojan War Will Not Take Place at the National, Billy Comes Home, Guy Landscape and Curse of the Starving Class for the Royal Court, A Delicate Balance, I Thought I Heard Rustling, The Way South, Curtains, Collier's Friday Night, Talk of the Devil, Tramway Road, Forty Years On, The Undertaking, Corn Is Green, The Family Dance, The Winslow Boy, Twelfth Night, A Singular Man, My Place, Tinker, Caesar and Cleopatra, Mr Bolfry and The Cherry Orchard, Anne Frank, The Crucible and View from the Bridge at Glasgow Citizens Theatre, in her native Scotland.
Besides One Foot in the Grave with Richard Wilson, Crosbie’s many television credits include Bodily Harm, Murder in Mind, Anchor Me, Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Jonathan Creek, Stuart, Dr Finlay, Flowers of the Forest, Nervous Energy, Message For Posterity, The Speaker of Mandarin, Heartbeat, Jute City, Colin's Sandwich, Summer's Lease, Beyond the Pale, Take Me Home, Watch with Mother, Bon Esperance, Taggart, Paying Guests, Paradise Postponed, Nobody's Property, Que Sera, Off Peak, Pericles, The Pyramid Game, Richard III, Northern Lights, Charles Dilk trilogy, The Misanthrope and Catherine of Aragon in The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
Meanwhile, on the big screen, Crosbie has been seen in Calendar Girls, Debt Collector, Solitaire for Two, Leon the Pig Farmer, The Pope Must Die, Final Warning, The Disappearance of Harry, Hawk the Slayer and The Slipper and the Rose.
Crosbie is currently playing Lily O'Hanlon in the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz's second play, The Night Season, which is directed by Lucy Bailey, and runs at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in rep until 17 November 2004. Other cast members include David Bradley, Sarah-Jane Drummey, Lloyd Hutchinson, John Light, Susan Lynch and Justine Mitchell.
Date & place of birth
Lives now in...
First big break
Then from there I went to Glasgow Citizens Theatre and I worked my way from the Citizens, which was fortnightly rep, back to Bristol, which was a three-weekly rep, to the West End and then I was at the Royal Court. That was the steady progression which the youngsters nowadays don't have. So it wasn't a question of a big break, it was a progression. You know, the word went out on the grapevine, eventually you got yourself an agent – but for ages you didn't need one.
Career highlights to date
Do you have any more plans to bare all like you did in Calendar Girls?
Comedy isn't funny to do. It's hard, hard work, it's very disciplined. You laugh a lot when you read it through around the table, but from then on it’s really hard work and you don't get long to do it either. Well, we didn't get long to do One Foot in the Grave. And you couldn't change a line, you couldn't change a proposition. David Renwick (the writer) would explain why it was that one and not the one you'd just used because you didn't learn it properly. He was there all the time, a looming presence.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
How do you think British theatre has changed since you started your acting career?
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
You were recently appointed President of the League Against Cruel Sports & you run the welfare group Greyhounds UK. How did your involvement with these organisations come about?
I thought I was only up against the greyhound racing industry, but now I find I'm actually up against the government and, again, it's money. When we first started saying to politicians that something needed to be done, they were agreeing. But the animal welfare bill is coming up again in the House of Commons, and this government is going to try and persuade everybody that there is very little wrong with greyhound racing, that we should leave it as it is and not do anything until 2010. For the last 75 years, what has gone on in greyhound racing has been unacceptable and indefensible in any country at all that talks about animal welfare, and yet they are proposing to leave it as it is because they want the gambling review and the animal welfare bill to go through as quickly as possible. That’s because they’re waiting for the money they’ll get from casinos which they will attach to greyhound tracks.
Once a dog stops running, they lose interest and there's no record kept of what happens to it. The NGRC are meant to discipline people who dump their dogs or who kill them, but if you withdraw your dog from a track that’s flooded and you don't want to risk the dog's safety, you’ll be fined £600 because you've upset the bookies. That's the kind of industry it is and nothing the British Greyhound Racing Board and its chairman Lord Lipsey says will convince me that you can leave this industry to change its spots because you can't. It's a culture of callous cruelty. There just isn't enough awareness, it's all kept secret. It wasn't until ‘Margaret Meldrew’ (Crosbie’s character from One Foot in the Grave) came along and wrote a letter to the Observer in 1998 that it was brought to people's attention and now everybody's talking about welfare but nothing has changed at ground level, nothing. People must write to their MPs and tell them that greyhound welfare must be addressed now and they must not take the assurances they've been given. Things can't wait till 2010.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Favourite holiday destinations
Why did you want to accept the role of Lily in The Night Season?
I just think this is a wonderful play. I find it extraordinary that a woman of Rebecca's age should know what it feels like to be my age. It seems to me that that's the mark of a real writer, and I was disappointed that so many critics summed up the character of Lily as a 'batty old woman' who's hung up on sex and who's batty because she watches the television with the sound off. Now, you'd think that they'd have the imagination to see that this woman is like all of us when we get old, you lose your power, your potency, your relevance, you're in the way, people don't pay any attention to you any more, the family that you held together they've outgrown you, they've gone. They don't mean it unkindly, but you no longer count. Insisting there's no sound on the television is the one exercise of power that this woman has, that's all it is, but it's important to her because otherwise she counts for nothing. She knows she's on the way out, she's lost her peers, she's got nobody to share memories with her, her daughter has left her and she doesn't know why, she probably blames herself like we always do. And the thing about sex that they don't seem to realise, these males, is that sex is an affirmation of life, that's what she wants, to know she's alive, that she still counts. Now how Rebecca knows all this... To be so good at putting it into someone's mouth and making it real, well...
What's your favourite line from The Night Season?
What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that’s happened in the run to date for The Night Season?
What are your plans for the future?
- Annette Crosbie was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
The Night Season runs in repertory at the NT Cottesloe theatre until 17 November 2004.