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Emma Cunniffe On ... Playing Dumb at the Rose

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Emma Cunniffe stars alongside Sanjeev Bhaskar and Dexter Fletcher in Stephen Unwin's revival of Joe Penhall's black comedy Dumb Show, which opens at the Rose Theatre, Kingston on 7 April 2010 (previews from 1 April).

Cunniffe, who rose to prominence starring in BBC television series The Lakes, has recently been on stage in Amongst Friends (Hampstead Theatre) and The Entertainer (Old Vic).

Dumb Show is a black comedy about the celebrity-obsessed society we live in and the dark secrets behind the showbiz personalities. It centres on a TV comedian who gets lured into talking about himself by two corporate bankers. They come to talk to him about lucrative banking deals and opening an account with their high-profile, exclusive bank. And then they all get to know each other and it all becomes something else... I’m trying not to give too much away! I can’t think of anything else that it is like; it’s quite unique. It holds a mirror up to our contemporary society. It’s done with real honesty and a sharp wit.

I play Liz, one of the bankers. She’s very driven, completely work-focussed and very tough in a very male world. It’s interesting because she’s very sure of herself in many ways but you see flashes of her insecurity. All three characters are on edge and paranoid – in the way people are in life when they try to put on a confident front.

It’s my second time working with the director Stephen Unwin, since doing The Master Builder with him in 1999. Stephen is a great collaborator. He isn’t prescriptive; he lets you explore it and find it for yourself. And Sanjeev Bhaskar’s such fun to work with – very funny, as is Dexter Fletcher.

Joe Penhall’s been very helpful and insightful. I’m a huge fan of Joe’s work. His writing has a great energy, a wit, a wealth of intelligence. It's full of the frailty of human nature, but also the strengths. Dumb Show was originally done at the Royal Court in 2004, and it’s interesting doing it now. It was written before the recession, so it seems quite prescient.

It’s my first time working at the Rose in Kingston. It’s a gorgeous theatre. What I love is that, although it’s a large theatre, it feels like it has this intimacy to it because of its slightly rounded shape and the cosy cushions at the front. I really enjoyed A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It’s a fantastic production, and Judi Dench is going to be a big act to follow! So far the Rose has staged mostly classical plays so it’s nice to try something modern on its stage.

I only learnt since working here that the venue's been having financial difficulties. You become aware of it but you can’t let that feed into or pressurise your performance as ultimately you have just got to do the play the best you can, and tell all your friends to come and see it! Dream has been a huge hit. Hopefully, it will go from strength to strength.

I always had an interest in acting. Most of my early work was TV, and the first professional thing I did was Cracker, though The Lakes was my big break. Recently I've done more theatre - I really enjoy both mediums. I’d love to do some film, though I don’t have a particular plan; I’m always just happy to be working really. After this, I play Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre - I’m hoping it's not going to rain!

Dumb Show runs from 7-17 April 2010 (previews from 1 April).


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