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20 Questions With ... Anna Francolini

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Anna Francolini goes from opera singer Maria in Onassis to Manhattan science teacher Susan in the Des Kennedy's production of How the World Began, which opened this week (15 November 2011) at the Arcola Theatre.

Date & place of birth
Chertsey, sometime in the 20th century.

Lives now in
West Hampstead

What made you want to become an actress?
I have no idea where it came from. I’m not a natural show off but, even as a kid, if there was a script involved I was desperate to speak the most lines.

If you hadn’t become an actress, what might you have done professionally?
I really don’t know. I’ve recently taken an interest in photography but I think I’d find a lot of jobs fun to do.

First big break
Company at the Donmar. It was a successful show at a prestigious venue working with some unbelievably talented people.

Career highlights to date
Last year revisiting the two shows I did at the Donmar -- Merrily We Roll Along and Company for Sondheim’s 80th birthday celebrations. To be able to go back to a job you did 10-15 years ago having gained 10-15 years worth of experience was incredible. The audience reception was so amazing and I think everyone had the best time. I’ll never forget it.

Favourite co-stars
Con O’Neill immediately springs to mind. He is one of our greatest actors and also one of the spittiest. Despite being drenched on a nightly basis, I would absolutely love to work with him again.

Favourite playwrights
Alan Ayckbourn.

Favourite directors
I have a top four in no particular order. Sarah Frankcom, Michael Grandage, Laurie Sansom and Alan Ayckbourn.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the last?
Wow. I've been racking my brains about this one. I cried solidly for 15 minutes after I saw Phantom of the Opera when I was about 14. Make of that what you will. But the greatest performances I have seen were from Chita Rivera in Chicago where I think for the first time I saw something so effortless and so knowing it took my breath away, and also from Tracie Bennett in End Of The Rainbow which I saw recently at Northampton. My favourite moment from that show was her curtain call. She had just delivered such a thrilling performance and must have felt like she'd been run over by a lorry, but her curtain call was so unindulgent and full of joy. It was like she was telling us, "Yeah, I just did all that talking and singing and didn't we all have a good time. But it's ok folks, now let's go the bar."

What's the best advice you have ever received?
Sam Mendes told me to unclench my buttocks. I didn’t really appreciate such wisdom until a few years later and now I realise that essentially all there is to acting is to be as relaxed as you can be. You might as well start with your backside.

Are there any parts you would particularly like to play?
I'd love to do David Hare's Plenty one of these days and of course there’s always a Calamity Jane busting to come out...

Favourite books
It's usually the last book I've just read. Recently I've loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson but I'm a sucker for a Lee Child.

Favourite holiday destinations
We went to Venice for our honeymoon last year and we completely fell in love with it. We are obsessed with going back but what with work and now I’m about to have a baby it may just have to wait.

Why did you want to get involved with this production?
I loved the script, I’ve really enjoyed working at the Arcola twice before and the character I play is pregnant, as am I, so it meant that I could work up until my 8th month which is extremely lucky for anyone in this business.

What’s the show about?
I think essentially the play is about misunderstanding and tolerance. It’s set in a small town in Kansas that has been ripped apart by a tornado. A New York biology teacher comes to help rebuild the school and an argument begins when those who believe in Creationism clash with people of Science. It’s hopefully funny and thought provoking at the same time.

Who do you play?
I play the New York Biology teacher who suddenly finds herself like a fish out of water.

What’s your favourite line in the show?
I couldn't possibly choose. The other lines would get jealous.

How does the new Arcola compare to the old?
It's in a slightly more central location. And again they seem to have created a really vibrant space that feels edgy and chic. You know you're going to see something special here.

What have you got lined up next?
I have lots of breathing exercises to master followed by a long run of nappy changing. Our baby is due 5 weeks after How The World Began ends. But hopefully I'll be back doing the rounds with a baby strapped to my back sometime next year.

How the World Began opened on 15 November 2011 at the Arcola Theatre and continues until 10 December.


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