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Brief Encounter With ... Abigail Thaw

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Abigail Thaw, daughter of the late John Thaw, stars in Sold a new play written by Australian playwright Suzie Miller. It tells the story of five real estate agents as they encounter individual struggles with the trauma of adulthood and the true price of success. The acerbic comedy offers a biting look into the world of real estate, in which material success and making the sale always comes before meaningful relationships.

Abigail Thaw, who plays the aggressive and ambitious Hilary, was last seen on stage in My Mother Said I Never Should (2009) at the Palace Theatre Watford and her previous theatre credits include Road to the Sea (2003) at the Orange Tree Theatre, Whipping It Up (2007 tour) as well as the Royal Exchange Theatre's production of Pride and Prejudice (1991). Here she tells us about what attracted her to Sold, her experiences growing up in a theatrical family, and her thoughts on the Arts funding cuts.

What attracted you to the role of Hilary?

She's so unbearable, and so utterly familiar. When we moved house last year, I met a lot of female estate agents. I'm always amazed and impressed by women who don't suffer fools, and dispense with niceties. I was taken aback by all the hard-line, hardened women I encountered, and by how unforgiving they were. When I read Sold, I was instantly drawn to the comedy. With Hilary, it's been great fun to mix unpleasantness and funniness, and explore what lies beneath her tough exterior. It's brilliant to play someone who is the complete antithesis to yourself - emotionally and politically - and totally money-motivated, which I'm not.

What has been the process of creating the character?

It was a very short rehearsal process, and a very big play, but we spent a lot of time exploring the world. We had an estate agent visit the rehearsal room, and visited an agency to learn about what they do. I worked and trained a lot with Mike Alfreds, and I use his approach a lot in my own private preparation. I was certainly able to draw on my own encounters with estate agents over the years as well.

Do you prefer new plays?

I love working with new writers, but would never turn down a Tennessee Williams or a Chekhov! Having Suzie Miller with us in the rehearsal room was a great luxury.

You come from a theatrical family - how has that influenced your career?

It's a mixed blessing. At the beginning of my career, people probably paid more attention because of my father (John Thaw). He was never into nepotism, however, and neither was my stepmother (Sheila Hancock). I don't think my father was particularly thrilled about me becoming an actress so wanted me to go it alone! I think my mother's academic background has been as big an influence on me, and given me a cerebral approach to acting. Oddly, I've never felt the draw of the movies or Hollywood, but maybe I thought it was beyond my remit. I'd love to do more for screen.

What are your feelings about the arts cuts?

Utterly depressed. It's too much, way too soon. But it's not just the Arts - the cuts across the board are really disturbing and very alarming. In some ways, the theatre has always been in some state of recession and while this feels like another kick in the teeth, I'm more concerned for other less resilient sectors. That said, I do wonder how small, unfunded, but vitally important venues like Theatre503 can possibly survive.

Which actor(s) do you most admire?

I tend to fall in love with any actor when they're performing. Robert De Niro and Laurence Olivier are my two all-time favourites. I've worked with Mark Rylance, and have huge respect for him. Emma Thompson has the career I most envy. Then Harriet Walter, Juliet Stephenson, Fiona Shaw and Sinead Cusack were all huge influences on me growing up - intelligent, informed women putting new slants on the old classic parts.

Who would you invite to your dream theatrical dinner party?

Christopher Marlowe, Sarah Bernhardt, Sarah Siddons and all the great Edwardian actors - they'd have some great stories. Stephen Fry to raise the bar for more intellectual conversation. Noel Coward for the gossip - he'd make us laugh and sing. Fiona Shaw for her sense of humour and intelligence. Really, I'd invite all my actor friends - David Morrissey, Clara Salomon and Lloyd Hutchinson. An indiscreet bunch with brilliant stories.

What is it like working at Theatre503?

It's great - really good fun, relaxed and extremely welcoming. Natalie (Ibu) made me feel really welcome from the off. Plus, Tim (Roseman) is a really good friend. The foyer feels like someone's living room, and sets the tone for the whole experience backstage and front. It's an amazing place, fuelled by a lot of good will, and run by a lot of tireless, determined and fearless people.

Why should people come and see Sold?

Because it's great fun. It's also really important to support new writing, and to support a small theatre which champions that cause. Theatre503 is known for fantastic work - you really can catch the next big thing, and help give it a longer life. Sold makes for a very entertaining evening, and captures the zeitgeist. In these frightening times of such huge, fundamental cuts, it asks the big questions of what really matters to us, and offers an important, comedic slant on materialism.

Sold runs at Theatre 503 from 19 April to 14 May 2011.


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