Clare Foster: Tom Stoppard doesn't scare me, he's lovely

We spoke with the actress about her acclaimed and varied career

If you were looking for an actress with a varied career, then you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who better fits the bill than Clare Foster.

Perhaps most widely known for her long-running role in the ITV series The Bill, Foster also has one foot firmly planted in musical theatre (Avenue Q, Merrily We Roll Along, Guys and Dolls). If crossing the mammoth divide between stage and screen wasn't impressive enough, she's stamping the other foot down on a burgeoning 'straight theatre' career including A Streetcar Named Desire at Bolton Octagon, and her current project Travesties at Menier Chocolate Factory.

We caught up with Clare to find out just how she's managed to do what's usually seemingly impossible.

Did you always want to be a performer?

I did, but I have no idea where it came from. I think just one day I started pestering my parents saying I wanted to dance – which they were really perplexed about – and then eventually after two years of nagging they took me along. We were really quite poor and Masters [Performing Arts school in Rayleigh, Essex] gave me a scholarship, so everything in my life is down to Wendy Headford [the school's founder], she has been like a second mum to me.

How did you go from there to working in the industry?

It's one of those things that you look back on your life and there's so many chance things that happened along the way. It just so happened that one of the teachers at Masters was assisting Arlene Phillips on the German production of Saturday Night Fever. Because of that, seven of us got auditions and I got the part. After that I was able to write to [casting director] David Grindrod who was kind enough to see this random girl, and I got the first tour of Chicago. From there, things kind of kicked off, but I could very easily have never worked, it's funny how life pans out.

They do say it's 'who you know'…

At lot has to be said for the people you meet along the way. For example, David Thacker [Bolton Octagon artistic director] was an enormous influence on my life, he gave me Blanche DuBois having never really done a play before. That moved me into the straight theatre world – I don't think anyone else would have given me that opportunity. It's the same with David Babani, casting me in Travesties based on the career I've had, it isn't necessarily a bracket that people would see me in, but he takes chances on people.

What appealed to you about working on Travesties?

I mean, why wouldn't you? It's a dream team! I was on holiday with Damian [Humbley, partner and fellow actor] and I got this email through for this casting. It was so out of the blue. I didn't know the play but I knew Patrick Marber and Tom Stoppard and I just thought it would be incredible. I love the Chocolate Factory so dearly, it's like coming home. The team of people they've got here are priceless.

What has it been like working with Tom and Patrick?

Patrick is just fantastic. He has such an accessible heart to him, he's so open and honest which has allowed me to be brave enough to go 'I don't know what this means'. From the very first audition you could tell he was going to be someone who would guide us and he continues to do so. Tom was here for the whole of the first week and he still pops in for runs and notes. Again, he's incredibly kind and open to working out what things mean. How lucky are we to have such an extraordinary playwright with us in rehearsals?

Is it daunting to have him in rehearsals?

I think it's less so for me than others, because of my background. I didn't study him at university so for me he's not this daunting figure that other people might find him. But he's also so charming that he doesn't bring any of that in the room with him – he's obviously a genius but he's also very kind.

You've been working on Alan Menken's musical comedy TV show Galavant, how has that been?

It was so much fun. It was one of the most fun jobs I've had actually. It's an ABC programme but it was filmed in Bristol, and it was wonderful to get back in front of the camera.

Will it be aired over here?

I'm not sure. It's only recently gone onto American Netflix, but hopefully in time they'll put it onto British Netflix. There's so many fantastic guest stars like Reece Shearsmith, Ricky Gervais, Sheridan Smith.

What's lined up for you after Travesties?

God knows!! Probably a big old sleep on a beach somewhere. This takes us up to November, I don't think in this business you can really think beyond the job you are doing because life finds a way of presenting stuff you didn't even know was coming – like Travesties.

Travesties runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 19 November 2016.