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A Flurry of Fairy Lights

Virgin.net, 2002-11-28

A flurry of fairy lights, cotton wool and bags of bargains from nearby Paul Smith.  It's surprising there's any room left in these three tiny dressing rooms for Zoë Wanamaker, Anna Chancellor and newcomer Lyndsey Marshal.  The trio have invaded the New Ambassadors Theatre (onstage and backstage) with a production of David Mamet's fast-paced comedy Boston Marriage.  While Lyndsey popped off to get the coffees, Virgin.net holed up with Anna and Zoë for some backstage goss.

Have you made any New Year's resolutions?
Anna:  Er, no.  I always break them.
Zoë:  I haven't had any particular ones.
A:  Is that bad?
Z:  Wait.  Mine is never to work with Anna Chancellor again!

Have we disturbed any pre-show ritual?
A:  Oh yes, we do have a ritual.  Zoë gets in first and is organising herself.  Then Lyndsey arrives.  Then I come in last and immediately go out with Lyndsey to get something to eat.  Then we sit in the corridor chatting while Zoë is trying to get on with things.  Then she leaves us while we're still eating and does her warm up.  Then at the very last minute, we go, 'Must go and do a warm up!'  Zoë is ready ages before everyone else.  I'm always last, it's always the same.  Isn't it?  Until we pushed it so far that my costume wasn't really on when I went on stage one night and I got a fright.

On to the play. How would you describe Boston Marriage?
Z:  It's a play written by David Mamet who is known for his acerbic...
A:  ...masculine?
Z:  ...masculine writing.  It's a play with three women, which he has never done before.  It has the same boldness...
A:  ...muscularity?
Z:  ...thank you!  Muscularity and strength but it is set in the early 1900s and it is two ladies of fashion who are in a relationship.
A:  They are sort of high-brow bluestockings.  At the turn of the century, many women would live together because your only choice was to marry.  If you were going to get out of that, you would maybe pool your money and resources and share with another woman.  That sharing could involve a love affair - or not.
Z:  It is very funny because he uses archaic language and it is full of wit.  There's a gag a minute.
A:  They're also quotes, aren't they?  His brain!  You feel like you're living in it when you're doing it!  His brain is like a magnet to things that he's heard.  So he's semi-quoting Gertrude Stein...
Z:  The Bible...
A:  Everything he's read.

It's very fast.  Sometimes in the audience you find yourself laughing at two jokes past.
A:  We don't go as fast as he [Mamet] would have liked us to have gone, I don't think, do you?
Z:  No.
A:  If he'd directed it, he would have had it go as fast as you could possibly have spoken.

Mamet came and helped during rehearsals, didn't he?
Z:  He didn't help, but he came for our third preview when we were at the Donmar Warehouse.  Then the next day he gave us a sort of masterclass.  It was a very interesting discussion about how he felt the language should go.
A:  He had his braces on, do you remember?  He literally came with his boots and braces, rubbing his hands together like he was in a cake shop.
Z:  I think he just enjoys the use of language and the silliness of the language.

Do you think he's qualified to write about women?
Z:  Yes, of course.  Why shouldn't he be qualified?  I don't understand that.  He's very qualified.  He knows lots of women, he likes women and I think when people say he can't write for women, it's b*llocks.  He's written for women before.  It's not a new thing.  He actually wrote this play for his wife.

Mamet's wife played your role, Anna.  Did that put pressure on you?
A:  Well, it wasn't really until I met him.  Then of course, because you're always so self-centred,  I wondered if I had been so different to what he wanted.  I think his production was very different to ours.  Which was probably quite hard for him.  I felt when he first saw it and we met him off stage, he looked quite shocked.
Z:  We were far more eccentric than I think he thought we would be.
A:  Do you think?
Z:  Yes, far more, far more.

I heard you called him Daddy.  How did that come about?
Z:  It was a backstage joke.  Because first we called him God.
A:  Because during rehearsals we never saw him.  Of course, because he was in America.  But he used to send us faxes about this and that.  So it was like there was this omnipotent sort of power over us.  We used to think he was like Charlie from Charlie's Angels.  You know when Charlie used to send in all the information but you never saw him?  So there were different things that we thought he was.  Mammy we sometimes called him!

How was it working with an all-female cast and director?
A:  You missed the blokes, didn't you?
Z:  I miss a bit of testosterone.  But, I mean, I've worked in plays with all women before.  It's very good...
A:  ...if the dynamics work.
Z:  Yes.

Has there been any cat-fighting?
Z:  Only on stage!
A:  No, we all get on well.  That is lucky.  Because three is not an easy dynamic.  I think it's a great dynamic but it is a potential for, you know...  a lot!

You've both hopped from film to TV to the stage.  Do you have a preference?
Z:  They feed each other, I think.  They really do.  When you're in a play you want to be doing a film and when you're in a film you want to be in a play.  Each discipline is completely different and requires an incredible amount of energy.  It's a different rhythm.
A:  When you're on stage, you're on and there's no stopping.  It's a bit like a horse in a race, once the gates are up, you're off.  That lack of choice I quite like.  Like you're being shot out of a gun.

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