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Rula Lenska: 'I'm not a great fan of gender changing roles, I prefer tradition'

We talk to the actress about ''The Case of the Frightened Lady'', her aristocratic background and the lack of roles for older women

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Rula Lenska
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Rula Lenska made her big break as Q in the '70s ITV musical drama Rock Follies and has since had a vast and varied career on screen including Minder, One Foot in the Grave, Robin Of Sherwood, Doctor Who, Coronation Street and EastEnders.

Her previous theatre credits include Calendar Girls, The Vagina Monologues, 84 Charing Cross Road and Eurobeat.

She is currently starring in the UK tour of The Case of the Frightened Lady, which is running at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley before touring to Weston-Super-Mare, Guildford, Crawley, Aylesbury, Chesterfield, Cardiff, Barnstaple, Stoke, Edinburgh, Woking, Milton Keynes, Coventry, Southend, Swansea, Leeds, Bury St Edmonds and Glasgow.

We caught up with her to find out more about the play and why her aristocratic heritage lends itself well to the role of Lady Lebanon.

Buy tickets for The Case of the Frightened Lady

My parents come from a high aristocratic background in Poland. So Lady Lebanon is a great role for me because she is driven by lineage and the importance of family roots, something I can really identify with.

It's a play where the audience needs to work. There are lots of clues, lots of red herrings. It starts off quite lightly with a fancy dress ball and then all hell breaks loose.

I think we can still be scared at the theatre. Soundscape, lighting effects and, of course, the acting has a great place in this genre. There are moments, even on stage, which I find really scary. Things like thunder and lighting, you know that it's stage effects, but if it's well done it adds an enormous sense of foreboding and danger.

Acting was my dream since I was a very little girl – my parents were not at all happy. My father wanted me to go into the United Nations because I could speak several languages. Both parents would have preferred that I'd had a bona fide job, which they didn't think acting was, but they were always hugely supportive because it was what I wanted to do.

My parents came over as refugees in '46, I was born a couple of years later. We went to English schools and did all the English traditions but at home it was singularly Polish, everything was strictly upheld – which I hated at the time, but I'm now enormously grateful for. It was a very bilingual upbringing.

Rock Follies was the first thing that put me on the map. There's been so many highlights, I've been lucky to be in practically all the iconic television series; Doctor Who and Robin Hood, Casualty and Minder, Coronation Street and EastEnders. And many highlights in a very varied theatrical career.

The last few years, work has not been as regular as one would have liked. Simply for the reason that decent parts for older women are harder to come by. I expected to get into a specialist niche, speaking languages, but that's looking less possible.

I'm not a great fan of gender changing roles. Like Glenda playing King Lear, and changing of period and style, I prefer tradition. I'd love to do the Scottish play. I'd like to do some more classic theatre generally, I haven't done enough Shakespeare and I'd love to work for the National.

The Case of the Frightened Lady runs at Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 27 January and then tours.

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