'I am very happy to make this website, designed by Liz, official.'
ZoŽ Wanamaker CBE
My name's Liz, and I manage the website. For details of when and why it was created, please see the section about this website.
ZoŽ has an official Twitter account, @ZoeWanamaker, that she runs with her PA, Vanessa. I tweet at @LizLockhart1985.
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse:
You can donate to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and find out more about this recreation of an indoor Jacobean theatre, on the Shakespeare's Globe website. ZoŽ, who is Honorary President of the Globe, talks about the history and significance of the project in a video by the theatre.
Guestbook - To sign the guestbook, please click the picture below. Your comments are much appreciated.
24 April 2017 15:13
The BBC has just released the first trailer for Babs, its forthcoming biopic of bubbly actress and national treasure Barbara Windsor. The clips give us our first glimpse of ZoŽ as radical theatre director Joan Littlewood, one of Windsor's early mentors.
'If you're not careful, you'll end up playing this sexy little blonde for the rest of your life,' Littlewood warns the starlet (played by Jaime Winstone).
The trailer doesn't specify a broadcast date, but hopefully we won't have long to wait now for what promises to be a fascinating BBC One drama.
18 April 2017 23:06
Such Rotten Luck's welcome return
Thanks to BBC Radio 4 Extra, there's a rare chance to hear Ronald Hayman's witty comedy-drama Such Rotten Luck again. ZoŽ stars alongside Tim Pigott-Smith, who sadly died recently, in the series. It was first broadcast in 1989 and follows the struggles of a second-class writer and his long-suffering wife. The chemistry between ZoŽ and her co-star is brilliant, making every episode a real treat.
Such Rotten Luck's first episode, 'The Little Grey Man', airs on 20 April at 9:30am with further chances to listen at 4:30pm that afternoon and (for any real early birds!) 4:30am the following day.
Lovely photo with a canine chum
Over 20 years after Such Rotten Luck, ZoŽ and Tim Pigott-Smith featured as another married couple in Wodehouse in Exile (originally called An Innocent Abroad). In BBC Four's moving 2013 film about PG Wodehouse's wartime experiences, ZoŽ again plays the wife of a writer (although a rather more acclaimed one this time!).
Mary Tavy Dog Grooming recently shared this lovely photo of ZoŽ holding a cute Pekingese called Adam. ZoŽ believes it was taken during the making of the film. (You may remember that her character, Ethel, owns an adorable lapdog.)
Attending the National's Up Next gala
Last month, ZoŽ attended the National Theatre's biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, in London. She was photographed at the event in a chic, sparkly outfit. Other well-known special guests included Olivia Coleman, Lenny Henry and Penelope Wilton.
Up Next was a huge success, raising more than £1 million for the NT's Learning department. The money will help to improve young people's access to theatre and the other arts (a cause close to ZoŽ's heart).
Watching a record-breaking performance
Whatsonstage.com recently highlighted some of the greatest theatre-related world records, including the 'Bardathon', which ZoŽ visited during summer 1987. Actor Adrian Hilton recited Shakespeareís complete works over four days, close to where Shakespeareís Globe now stands in London, becoming the holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest solo theatrical performance!
15 April 2017 03:23
On 9 April, ZoŽ and her husband, Gawn Grainger, joined other leading lights from the UK theatre industry at the Olivier Awards 2017 in London. For the second year running, ZoŽ was chosen to provide the voiceover for the prestigious ceremony, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall. She also appeared on stage twice during the course of the evening, wearing a show-stopping long black dress.
Backstage at the event, ZoŽ was photographed laughing, as well as in a more reflective mood.
When the nominations for the Virgin Atlantic Best New Play were announced, she was invited to speak briefly to the audience about the compelling nature of Nick Payne's Elegy, in which she starred last year at the Donmar Warehouse as a woman battling a neurological disorder. 'Elegy is set in the very near future, exploring a world where the brain is no longer a mystery to us. But Nick's play asks at what cost?' ZoŽ emphasised. 'As part of its original cast, [having] play[ed] one of its three fantastic characters alongside Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosanya, I'm delighted that Elegy has been nominated tonight. Nick has written a play for today.'
Unfortunately, Zoe's speech wasn't included in the Olivier Awards' TV coverage on ITV1 (the broadcast slot was shorter than the ceremony itself). However, a couple of great photos of her making the speech have been released. Elegy lost out to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the winner of an unprecedented nine Oliviers) in the end; nevertheless, its nomination for such a major award pays tribute to the tremendous talents of the writer and cast.
Towards the end of the ceremony, ZoŽ and her husband were among more than 60 members of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company who gathered on stage to celebrate Branagh's Society of London Theatre Special Award. Having both appeared in the company's 2015-16 Plays at the Garrick season in the West End (ZoŽ in All On Her Own/Harlequinade, Gawn in The Entertainer), they looked delighted to be honouring their friend and colleague.
Thank you, Karoline, for your help and images of the souvenir brochure.
13 April 2017 00:25
ZoŽ joins Inside Number 9's star-studded cast
Excitingly, ZoŽ's fans now have not two but three brand new TV shows to look forward to over the coming months. That's because ZoŽ has been invited to play a special guest role in an episode from the fourth series of BBC2's Inside Number 9.
She's among a host of well-known faces set to appear in Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's cult comedy-drama, which features darkly humorous stories with weird and wonderful twists. Joining ZoŽ in the next series will be Noel Clarke, Emilia Fox, Nicola Walker and many others. In the words of Inside Number 9's talented creators, 'it's a dream to work with the country's finest [actors]'.
In 2011, when the Guardian asked him to highlight the best performance he's ever seen on stage, Pemberton chose ZoŽ's portrayal of a long-suffering wife in Terry Johnson's Dead Funny (1994). 'Wanamaker could have you howling with laughter one minute and sobbing the next, because she has the kind of emotional insight that draws you in,' he explained. That quality will surely be ideal for Inside Number 9.
Filming is taking place at Pinewood Studios and on location, with the series expected to air in 2018. I'll bring you details of Zoe's episode as soon as they become available.
In the meantime, if you enjoy quirky stories with surprising endings (who doesn't?!), why not revisit ZoŽ's brilliant performance in Tales of the Unexpected (1987)?
ZoŽ and her husband at Don Juan in Soho's press night
Talking of brilliant performances, ZoŽ's husband, Gawn Grainger, is currently appearing alongside David Tennant in Patrick Marber's Don Juan in Soho. The exciting play, which focuses on 'a cruel seducer who lives only for pleasure' (as the show's official website remarks), had its opening night at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End on 28 March. ZoŽ and her husband were pictured together enjoying the after-party, both dressed in smart, funky outfits.
Don Juan in Soho runs until 10 June; tickets are available.
New book features ZoŽ's insights into Much Ado About Nothing
ZoŽ's own stage work forms part of a new book by fellow actor Julian Curry, Shakespeare on Stage: Volume 2. Recently published by Nick Hern Books, the book includes an interview with Zoe about playing Beatrice in the National Theatre's acclaimed 2007 production of Much Ado About Nothing (there's a clip below to help refresh your memory).
In a lovely extract from the interview on the publisher's blog, ZoŽ emphasises that Beatrice is 'perfectly matched' with her old sparring partner, Benedick; they're soulmates. 'Of all the people she might have a relationship with, it could only be him [...] It's the warmth and the wit of these two people, and the fact that they are misfits who thankfully find each other, that make it such a joyous play.'
Thank you, Karoline, for bringing the book to my attention.
And just in case anyone was wondering, a write-up of the recent Olivier Awards will follow in a separate news article... :-)
17 March 2017 22:57
On 13 March, London's prestigious Club at The Ivy provided the gorgeous setting for an entertaining, insightful interview with ZoŽ. The fundraising event was organised by arts charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects, of which she's a patron. Several dozen club members, Mousetrap supporters and fans listened to ZoŽ discuss her fantastic work with The Ivy's well-known Director, Fernando Peire.
The thoroughly enjoyable evening began with Mousetrap's Director, Susan Whiddington, giving a brief overview of ZoŽ's career highlights, as well as the charity's efforts to help thousands of young people experience the Capital's vibrant theatre scene. As the interview got underway, Peire pointed out that he'd known ZoŽ (who looked sophisticated in a smart black ensemble teamed with a colourful scarf) for 'many, many years'. That fact, coupled with Peire's decision not to rely on pre-prepared questions, ensured that the conversation flowed naturally and was therefore all the more engaging.
When asked why she believes it's so important for children and teenagers to have the opportunity to enjoy plays, ZoŽ explained that 'without our young brains being allowed to grow' by watching, discussing and taking part in creative activities, 'we can't develop as people'. You need to discover 'the joy of expressing yourself'. It saddens ZoŽ to think that high ticket prices can act as 'a barrier' and prevent people from underprivileged backgrounds from experiencing the magic of live performance. She emphasised that theatre should never be reserved solely for society's elite; it needs to be available to everyone. Mousetrap would surely agree with that sentiment, as its team strives to give disadvantaged youngsters the chance to go to the theatre and get involved in related, educational projects.
Peire wondered how ZoŽ feels the experience of watching a stage show differs from tuning in to TV programmes. For ZoŽ, theatre is 'the most exciting thing' because it's 'a live place'; the performance unfolds in front of your eyes, right there and then. Theatre's immediacy and emotive power transports audiences to 'another place'.
ZoŽ's enjoyment of theatre and performance is possibly one of the reasons she 'giggle[s] a lot' during the rehearsal process. (Her comment reminded me of the lovely photo (below) from rehearsals for Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee in the early 1990s.) Starring in Love Hurts (1992-4) with Adam Faith was also a hugely positive, enjoyable experience for ZoŽ. 'I had a really good time with him,' she remarked.
ZoŽ revealed that another of her most popular TV shows, My Family (2000-11), has a connection to The Ivy. It was there that Robert Lindsay initially suggested to his friend that she might like to make a sitcom with him. The appeal of trying something new and acting with someone she 'admire[s] so much' encouraged ZoŽ to accept the offer. She describes My Family, which was filmed in front of a studio audience, as 'one of the scariest things I've ever done'. As millions of viewers know, she certainly rose to the challenge, and eleven series were made (which was a 'pretty damn good' run, noted Peire).
ZoŽ's favourite style of comedy is what she calls 'New York humour'. It's 'naughty and rude but [made] with love' (like the jokes in My Family, which was created by Manhattan-raised producer Fred Baron). She believes that playing a comedic role requires a different set of skills to being an entertainer or 'personality' and is more comfortable with the former. 'I'd rather speak someone else's lines than my own.'
In recent years, ZoŽ has noticed that the number of women writers and directors working in TV and theatre is increasing, which can only be a good thing. 'I think there's more happening for women now [in those industries],' she observed. However, ZoŽ is concerned that their salaries don't always match men's, and so there's clearly still room for improvement with regards to gender equality.
ZoŽ's father, Sam Wanamaker, was committed to making society fairer. The actor and director had a 'passion for liberalism and socialism' and clearly believed in the power of the arts to enhance people's lives. During the late 1950s, he led Liverpool's New Shakespeare Theatre. It became a creative hub and opened for around 17 hours a day. The New Shakespeare was, in Peire's words, 'a visionary project'. It's widely known that Sam Wanamaker was also the driving force behind another pioneering theatre, Shakespeare's Globe on London's South Bank. In honour of his incredible contribution, the Globe's recreation of an indoor Jacobean theatre is named after him. ZoŽ describes the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as a 'beautiful [Ö] gorgeous' venue. Her father would surely have agreed with her that 'the arts of this country are the most vital thing'. They're certainly thriving on the South Bank, thanks to him.
Since leaving drama school in 1970, ZoŽ has seen the UK's theatre industry change considerably. In particular, the repertory system has now largely disappeared (the companies 'don't exist anymore, really'), and so today's young actors have lost a valuable training ground. As ZoŽ pointed out, it's through 'the doing [that] you learn'.
She told Peire that her parents didn't push her into acting; they both had first-hand experience of the demanding, difficult nature of the profession. 'I'm not good at rejection,' ZoŽ said, reflecting on one of the toughest aspects of life in the acting business. At drama school, she briefly considered changing her famous surname, perhaps wishing to avoid the weight of expectation or create a fresh identity. She decided against the change after talking to her father and realising that people could easily find out who she was whether she called herself Wanamaker or not. What's more, ZoŽ concluded that even if her surname opened doors, it was up to her to prove herself.
When preparing for a role, she gathers a wide range of research material. 'I grab anything I can,' ZoŽ remarked. You need to find a way to 'get a hook' on the character. For instance, she has a 'massive postcard collection' that can act as a source of inspiration. After being asked to perform Terence Rattigan's All On Her Own during Kenneth Branagh's inaugural Plays at the Garrick season in 2015, ZoŽ put together 'a lookbook' that reflected the disturbing monologue's mood. Peire remembered being 'absolutely swept away' by her performance as the grief-stricken, guilt-ridden widow, Rosemary. 'She becomes [her dead husband]; she inhabits him,' ZoŽ emphasised. She views All On Her Own as 'a little bit of a jewel', which she 'loved doing' and would 'love to do [Ö] again'. ZoŽ would also relish the opportunity to see another actress's interpretation of the intriguing character.
A similarly important aspect of preparing to play a character is, of course, learning the lines. ZoŽ's dyslexia can make that process challenging, but for a number of years now she's benefited from working with someone who helps her to master each script.
Performing a play over a number of months requires great energy and stamina. Eight shows a week is the norm. During the brief break between a matinee and evening performance, it's impossible for the cast to switch off. In ZoŽ's words, 'you never leave [the play] completely'. What happens when the run ends? '[Y]ou usually get ill'.
ZoŽ explained that she has no dream roles, though she'd like to have played Shakespeare's Juliet in her youth. She also achieved a long-held ambition in 2011 by starring as tragic aristocrat Ranyevskaya in Howard Davies' production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. ZoŽ prefers to adopt a 'reactive' approach to her work rather than chasing specific parts. 'My mum always said don't be too pushy,' she added.
As the interview came to an end after about an hour of fascinating discussion, ZoŽ brought everyone's attention back to Mousetrap's aim of making theatre more accessible to young people. She emphasised that it's 'the most wonderful charity'. Mousetrap has more than returned the compliment with an enthusiastic tweet.