Actress Ann Mitchell first worked with Simon Callow 30 years ago in a Lincoln Theatre Royal production of The Erpingham Camp, in which Callow made his professional debut. Since then, they have worked together numerous times, most recently eight years ago when Callow directed Mitchell in The Destiny of Me at the Leicester Haymarket. This month, they reunite once again to star in Franz Zaver Kroetz' two-hander Through the Leaves at Southwark Playhouse.
While not collaborating with Callow, Mitchell has built up a prolific stage career. She was most recently seen this autumn in Philip Prowse's production of Britannicus at her "stomping ground", The Citizens in Glasgow.
Mitchell has also had several starring roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including her "Performance of the Year" (Independent on Sunday) as Hecube in John Barton's 12-hour Greek tragedy Tantalus, directed by Peter and Edward Hall.
Her other stage credits include Mother Courage, Private Lives Hamlet, The Road to Mecca, Intimate Death and Steel Magnolias.
On television, Mitchell is perhaps best known as Dolly Rawlins in Widows 1, while she's alos appeared in Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Summer in the Suburbs, Supply and Demand and, most recently, EastEnders.
Date & place of birth
Born 22 April 1939 in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel in the East End.
Lives now in...
I've lived in the same flat in Camden for the last 40 years!
I got the first scholarship ever to go to the East 15 acting school, the school that came out of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop.
First big break
In terms of being known to the public, it was playing Dolly Rawlins in the television series Widows 1, but I'd done an awful lot of work in theatre and classical work before that. I suppose my first big break was the fact that John McGrath and Troy Kennedy Martin wrote a part in Diary of a Young Man for me while I was still at drama school.
Career highlights to date
Certainly Widows 1 and also Talking to a Stranger, the John Hopkins quartet that made television history. In the theatre, it must be Mother Courage, Mary Stuart and Mrs Warren's Profession, all at the Glasgow Citizens', and more recently, Tantalus for the RSC.
Favourite productions you've ever worked
The Citizens' is very much my stomping ground, my alma mater. The work I did there was very important to me - I liked being a member of the company and the aesthetic of the place. I loved Tantalus too - it was an amazing thing to do for 12 hours on the stage.
Gary Oldman in The War Plays at the RSC, because he's dangerous and daring and exciting; and I'm enjoying working with Simon Callow again. We worked together before at Lincoln Rep, which was Simon's first job, and he directed me in The Destiny of Me at Leicester Haymarket.
Philip Prowse, because of his amazing aesthetic sense - he has the most wonderful visual sense of any director I've ever worked with. Peter Hall and Edward Hall from Tantalus - Ed had an enormous energy and, like Peter, a great love of actors and a great sense of theatre. Simon Callow, because he brought such energy and commitment to the piece.
Eugene O'Neill. I was about 15 when I first started reading him and, even at that age, I knew there was something going on there in the subconscious of his work. Tennessee Williams, because of his delicacy. I also like doing Racine, which is wonderful from the point of the view of the language. I've just done Britannicus at the Citz. And my son, Che Walker. He's a very exciting new young writer. His first play was seen at the Royal Court, Been So Long, and they've commissioned him for his new play next year.
What roles would you most like to play still?
The mother in The Glass Menagerie. I'm a bit too old for Lady Macbeth now, but if there was a production where they were aging it a bit, I'd like to do that. I'd also like to do Volumnia in Coriolanus.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Been So Long, my son's play. It was an amazing experience, to see a white writer writing for black characters. The language was absolutely thrilling. It was obviously very personal and subjective as I was watching my own son's talents. But it was also beautifully acted.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Bring back drama into schools, in a much more present way than it is now, so that drama becomes a part of the students' lives, not something that is separate.
Graham Greene is my favourite author - I re-read him a great deal. The End of the Affair I like very much, also Brighton Rock and A Quiet American: I'm looking forward to seeing the movie of that.
Favourite holiday destinations
I don't have many holidays, but I have been to Greece and I loved that very much, and I loved Colorado when I was working there on Tantalus: it was beautiful to explore the country and mountains.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I would have been a psychoanalyst. There's a very strong link between it and what acting means to me, which is looking at why people are the way they are and why they do things. I have a real fascination about what drives people subconsciously, and exploring what it means to be human.
Why did you want to accept your role in Through the Leaves?
I wanted very much to work again with Simon. I accepted it because I felt it was an extremely complex character. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with anyone can identify with this. My character is very lonely and falls for a fellow factory worker, and I like her very much: she has a real strength but also a vulnerability, weakness and innocence.
What's the secret to a good two-hander - in terms of both the writing & performing?
I haven't done many two-handers - in fact, I think this is my first. The particular appeal of this is the fact that it's like a dance between the two actors. You have to be so aware of each other and what the other actor is thinking. It's very challenging
How would you describe Southwark Playhouse to someone who'd never been?
It's dynamic, it's got a very exciting feel to it. It's part of the community and has a buzz around it. You get the feeling that it's run and administered by people willing to take risks.
What's your favourite line from Through the Leaves?
"Some things you demand cost more than others."
What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals of Through the Leaves?
Simon and I go into a riff with one another - taking the piss out of each other as actors. If the director praises me, Simon pretends to sulk; if he gets praise, I interrupt the director and tell him, "Enough of that!"
Through the Leaves opens 9 January 2003 at Southwark Playhouse and continues to 1 February (previews from 7 January).