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Anita Dobson: ‘London Road pays a great tribute to the girls who died'

The former EastEnders star describes making the soon-to-be-released film as 'the strangest thing I've ever done'

Anita Dobson as June in London Road

Give us a beginners' introduction to London Road
The story is based on the murders that happened a few years ago in Ipswich of prostitutes working in that area. Alecky Blythe took a tape recorder along and interviewed people who lived in the area, including the road where the murderer lived, and took it to the National Theatre as the basis of a show. Remarkably, it became a musical [in 2012], though the verbatim style means it sounds very bizarre. It's one of the strangest things I've ever done. But it absolutely works. I wasn't in the stage version but am very glad I came on board for the film.

Tell us about your character
June is one of the residents, who lives with her bloke Terry. She's got a heart of gold; she's the sort of lady you'd meet in the street and love to have a chat with. She's quite sympathetic to the situation of the girls, many of whom were forced into that life.

Did you meet her during filming?
I did. She was adorable. Sadly she's not with us anymore [she died after filming was completed], but I'm thrilled that I got to meet her. She came onto the set of the film and had a lovely day with us. She had a full, good life, and I think she embraced every day with an open heart. She was a good spirit.

What was her reaction to the project?
She loved it. She was absolutely thrilled that they were filming. She and Alecky got on like a house on fire; she became a real favourite and I can see why because she was adorable.

What was the atmosphere like on set?
It was amazing. There were some people on the set who'd done it on stage and had already formed a family, while some of us came in just for the film. But they made us feel very welcome, and it was one of the happiest work situations I've ever been in. A lot of that was due to [director] Rufus Norris, who is a divine personality. He's very calm and has a great sense of humour - he's very much one of the company.

How did you film the singing?
We had an earpiece playing the score and [MD] David Shrubsole conducting us in our peripheral vision. I don't know how he did it, it was extremely complex.

They're not your average musical numbers - was it difficult to learn?
It was odd. Adam [Cork] composed a wonderful score, but it was strange to sing. You speak the dialogue but you're also singing it to the tune, keeping the inflections. So you have to marry all that together. It sounds bizarre and undoable but you do get the hang of it. The two girls who sing "It Could Be Him" just soaked up the process so quickly, and gave stunning performances. But for some of us it took a bit longer to adjust to.

As Queen Elizabeth in Armada

You recently appeared in Follies at the Albert Hall - how was that experience?
That was scary too, because I'm not a dancer, but I learned to tap for the part and it was thrilling. I loved every minute of it.

What else is currently on your radar?
I'm playing Queen Elizabeth I in a BBC drama-documentary about the Spanish Armada, which is quite a role! And then next week I'm off to do a production of She Stoops to Conquer directed by Lindsay Posner in Bath. So I'm having a very exciting time at the moment.

Finally, what would you say to persuade people to see London Road?
The performance of Olivia Colman is extraordinary, and one of many. I think people will be pleasantly surprised and also very moved, because the film pays a great tribute to the poor girls who died. It shows that out of something so appalling, something good can come.

London Road premieres in cinemas nationwide on 9 June 2015