Nichola McAuliffe: 'My advice for Edinburgh? Don't stress: the Fringe will be over in a few weeks'

The actress and writer offers her tips on how to survive the festival this August

Nichola McAuliffe
Nichola McAuliffe
© Dan Wooller, 2007

Novelist, playwright and actress Nichola McAuliffe has had a remarkable career starring extensively on big and small screens and the stage. In 1988 she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress for Kiss Me, Kate and starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Palladium as Baroness Bomburst, for which she was nominated for an Olivier. As well as starring in TV shows such as Coronation Street, Doctor Who and My Family, she's a veteran Fringe-goer, appearing in plays written by herself, and also in other people's pieces too. This year she returns to the Fringe with her new play Revenants, which she also performs in. Here she tells us what it's about and her tips for surviving the Fringe.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm starring in Revenants, I'm just cheap enough to employ, is all. The play is set in 1943, 25 years after the murder of the Romanovs and 25 years before the murder of Martin Luther King. I always wanted to write something about what King George V and Queen Mary felt about what happened to the Romanovs (King George was essentially responsible for their murder). So the idea is that three disparate people, Queen Mary, her Jamaican chauffeur and the actor Ernest Thesiger (who was openly gay during the First World War), are in a birch wood. She's going to talk about the Romanovs for the first time and into the mix comes a young black GI.

I was five years old when the acting came, and probably six when the writing came. It was my husband, who was a tabloid journalist, who encouraged me to write a novel initially. He told me the average novel is 18,000 words. I thought: 'I could do that'. Three thousand words in I decided I couldn't do it. But he said: 'Start at the beginning and never look back'. He told me that most sentences should be about 12 words, cut out all the ‘that's', and I went away and wrote my first novel.

I found it difficult to write plays though. A lot of people can write decent dialogue, but they can't do structure. I was forming plays in the same way I was forming a novel: rather sprawlingly. It clicked into place with A British Subject, which was originally written for radio, and then Maurice's Jubilee, which I'm very proud to say was on at the Moscow Art Theatre.

I once played a pear-shaped green furry alien, with lighting up tennis balls on sticks as antennae. It was my favourite oddest job. It was for a gas board advert. The costumes were really pear-shaped and when we came to rehearse it, the techies had built the shape of the doors with the pear the wrong way up. Another odd job was voicing James Bond's car.

I usually enjoy the Fringe with hindsight. It's like child birth, in that the only way you survive it is that you immediately forget it after. This play is my fourth up there. My advice is when you get to King's Cross, find the left luggage department and leave your liver there. But also: don't stress. It's a very, very stressed four weeks, especially if you don't get reviewed, or you get not such good reviews, or the audiences are small. Just remember it will be over in four weeks.

Revenants runs at King Dome, Pleasance Dome, until 27 August at 17.00

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