One of the UK's top theatre cabaret acts, the all-girl Fascinating Aida was started in 1983 by Dillie Keane (pictured), Marilyn Cutts and Lizzie Richardson in a wine bar in West End Lane, with subsequent members including Adele Anderson as well as Issy Van Randwyck, Denise Wharmby and Glenda Smith.
Over the past 20 years Fascinating Aida has toured around the country and around and the world, visiting Singapore, Berlin, Kenya, New York, Australia, New Zealand and San Francisco in addition to stints with Barefaced Chic and In, It, Wit, Don't Give a Shit Girls in the West End, where the troupe added Laurence Olivier nominations to a host of other awards. They've also released five albums, two books and two videos.
Aida co-founder Dillie Keane is fascinating in her own right. A graduate of LAMDA, she's enjoyed solo success not only as an actress and songwriter, but also as a columnist - for The Mail on Sunday and industry newspaper The Stage - and a writer of books and plays.
Away from Fascinating Aida, Keane's stage credits have included her one-woman shows Single Again and Citizen Keane, as well as Dancing at Lughnasa, The Plough and the Stars, Juno and the Paycock, Accommodating Eva, Present Laughter and Charley's Aunt. On screen, she's appeared in Pie in the Sky, Truly Madly Weekly, Deadly Advice and To Die For.
This summer, Keane reunited with Cutts and Anderson for Fascinating Aida's 20th anniversary and the company's last-ever tour. The new show, One Last Flutter, also featuring musician Russell Churney, continues its five-month regional schedule until late November 2003 ahead of an expected West End finale.
Date & place of birth
Born in May 1952 in Portsmouth.
Lives now in...
Between my place in Chiswick and my partner's in north Oxfordshire.
At university in Dublin, where I did music, and then a three-year course at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art).
First big break
I was asked to write a song for Start the Week (BBC Radio 4) - which, in those days, was more of a magazine programme broken up with songs - and it was heard by the producer of Stop the Week (which no longer exists). He asked me to write for his programme and I wrote for him for nine years.
Career highlights to date
I played Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa on tour. I knew I was terribly good, and it was a joy to do - a wonderful part, in a wonderful play, with a wonderful cast. I played Juno in Juno and the Paycock in Leicester. I was too young to play it then - that was about ten years ago - but I stayed in digs and the woman who ran them became my best friend.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Those two obviously. Also, Charley's Aunt, which I did a couple of years ago with Eric Sykes and Neil Mullarkey. Nyree Dawn Porter was originally cast in my role but sadly died. How they got from her to me casting-wise I don't know, but it was a wonderful experience to work with Eric.
My mates in Fascinating Aida (Adele Anderson, Marilyn Cutts and Russell Churney) would be the sensible answer and particularly this incarnation of it (not to be rude about the others) because this is the one that made the group. Also Sandi Toksvig and Bonnie Langford in a show we did at Watford called Big Night Out at the Little Palace Theatre. They were so brilliant to work with.
I worked Matthew Warchus on The Plough and the Stars and he's an absolutely fabulous director. Jonathan Cocker was the assistant director on Dancing at Lughnasa, but he really directed it and he was wonderful. There wasn't anything he didn't know about that play. Also Clarke Peters. He did our last Fascinating Aida show and I died laughing in rehearsals.
JB Keane. I've never done any of his plays so please, if anyone reading this would like to give me a part in one, I'm ready! Brian Friel, Sean O'Casey, and my great passion of all is Chekhov.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Big Maggie from the JB Keane play of the same name. I'd like to have another crack at Juno and Madame Ranevskya from The Cherry Orchard. But no Shakespeare - I'm hopeless at it, although I love it. I played the Nurse once in Romeo and Juliet and I was terrible.
With such a varied career - as an actor, writer, columnist & composer - how do you describe yourself?
It says 'entertainer' on my passport, but I'd say actress-songwriter was most accurate. When I'm writing my songs, I act them as I go. If I can't do that, then I drop them.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
I haven't seen much on stage recently, just a lot of movies. I suppose the thing that really comes to mind is the Kirov ballet, which I saw a few years ago. They blew me away. I hadn't seen ballet for a long time because I was cross with the sloppiness of English ballet, but I cried like a baby all the way through the Kirov perfomance. There were geysers in my eyes it was so incredibly moving. I also saw Gerard Murphy as Falstaff in Bristol. It wasn't a great production, but it was lovely to see a monumental part like that.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of theatre?
Drama - and by that I mean theatre, opera and ballet - is vital to the international reputation of this nation. The knock-on effect of having a healthy and vital theatre scene means that people come from all over the world, spend money and bring a lot of lustre. Losing that would be a great shame. So my advice would be to take VAT off theatre tickets.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I would like to swap places with Fats Waller because I'd like to have written those songs. But he died at age 39.
Italy - Lake Como, or the Amalfi Coast, particularly Ravella.
Favourite holiday destinations
I just read Independent People by Halldor Laxness. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1935 or 1936, but I had never heard of him. I saw the book on the shelf, and it had various recommendations on the cover, including one from Fay Weldon, so I read it. It took me ages to get through the first bit, but when you get into it, it's so wonderful and brilliantly written. It's all about a peasant farmer and his struggle working the land.
Favourite after-show haunts
Joe Allen's, there is no contest.
I've just discovered www.bagstodiefor.com, which is naughty but great if you've got a thing for handbags as I have. I've just ordered one. I love surfing the web, full-stop.
What made you decide to bring Fascinating Aida back?
It wasn't in retirement. We always do a show and then take a break, but this is the going-into-retirement show.
Do you really think One Last Flutter will be the last flutter?
That's the intention. I suppose if some stonkingly marvellous offer was made I might reconsider. But we've achieved everything we can achieve and I feel I am slightly in danger of repeating myself - although this is a completely new show.
Have audiences changed in the 20 years Fascinating Aida has been touring?
No, but I'm never sure if I've still got the universal sense of humour. The rule of thumb is, if it makes me laugh, it should make the audience laugh. I have been my own yardstick really!
What are the best & worst aspects of touring?
The best bits are visiting theatres you absolutely love and seeing friends around the country and the beautiful countryside. This time of year you get the best; touring in January and February when it's dreary out, there's not a lot of joy in it. But I love this country's geography. On the bad side, there are two things: you don't get home to see your beloved and you miss a lot of things. I'm missing a wedding of a very close friend, which is disappointing, but you learn to live with that. And the other thing is, I'll only be fit for cat meat at the end, you can just take me to the factory!
What's the most funniest thing that's happened during your years with Fascinating Aida?
I can't think of anything that will make great storytelling, you probably had to be there. I do remember the night we got very very high in Melbourne and got thrown out of a restaurant. I had to be woken up by the same hotel porter who put me to bed an hour earlier. We've partied all around world really. Pink Floyd came to a party of ours in Australia. It was on the roof of our apartment and went on until the next day, when the police had to come to stop it. We've had a lively time, put it that way.
What's your favourite song or line from One Last Flutter?
Always the one I've written most recently. It's the rudest show we've ever done. We're very rude about New Zealand in one song, but I would have to quote too much of it for it to make sense. We've written an update of the "Nightmare Song" and it paints the nightmare scenarios:
From some part of the globe
Comes a chap in a robe
And a headdress he looks very nice in.
But beneath his jillaba
The fellow may harbour
A lethal container of Ricin
He's so fundamental
He hasn't seen Yentl
And preaches demonic polemic.
He wants each infidel
To descent into hell
With a dose of bubonic systemic.
What are your future plans?
After One Last Flutter, I shall be in a Swiss sanatorium recovering for a long time! I also want to do another show with Sandi Toksvig and Bonnie Langford.
- Dillie Keane was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
Fascinating Aida's One Last Flutter opened at The Lowry in Salford on 8 June 2003. It continues on tour until late November 2003. A London transfer is anticipated though neither a venue nor dates have yet been announced.