Angela gets her kicks on stage

JON WELCH She first showcased her dancing abilities with Morecambe & Wise. Now Angela Rippon has taken her talent to the stage in the classic musical Anything Goes, which comes to Norwich Theatre Royal from April 24 to 29.

JON WELCH

We know her as the cool, unflappable tv presenter with the cut-glass accent, not a grasping, hysterical harpy.

Yet that's the part Angela Rippon will be playing when Cole Porter's classic musical Anything Goes comes to Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday, April 24.

Anyone who's ever seen her famous, high-kicking appearance on The Morecambe & Wise Show - and surely there can't be anyone left who hasn't - knows she can dance.

Nevertheless, it still comes as a pleasant surprise to discover her in the cast of a major musical.

In case you're assuming this marks a return to a stage career put on hold when television fame beckoned, it doesn't.

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A look at Angela's long and varied CV reveals she began her working life as a trainee journalist in her hometown of Plymouth.

She worked for both the BBC and Westward Television before joining the national BBC in 1973.

“I've never been in theatre, I'm a journalist - that's what I've done for the last 40 years,” she confirms. “I did go to dancing school until I was 16½, like a lot of kids do. It's like riding a bike - once you have learned to dance, you never forget - but your body seizes up and says, 'What do you think you're doing?'

“I've never done anything in my life like this before, but it's enormous fun.”

The nearest she came, of course, was that Morecambe & Wise appearance in 1978 when Angela memorably appeared from behind a desk wearing black glossy stockings, a shimmering side-split evening dress and high heels and joined Eric and Ernie in a racy dance routine.

The clip still crops up regularly on TV. “It has been shown rather a lot,” says Angela, 61.

“When the public talk to me they want to know what Eric and Ernie were like. Sadly, they're no longer here, so I'm a kind of vicarious link. They were such loved individuals that I don't mind at all.”

Angela's move into theatre came after she was approached by Anything Goes director Ian Talbot.

“He's a very well-respected Shakespearean director and I've interviewed him several times, so I sort of knew him from that side of my profession for a while,” she explains.

She was surprised when he suggested her for a role in Anything Goes. “I said 'Ian, what are you thinking?' but he said 'I've worked with you as an interviewer and you've got great timing'.”

Anything Goes is set aboard the luxury ocean liner SS American, which sets sail for England with a cargo of colourful characters.

Stowaway Billy Crocker is chasing the delectable deb Hope Harcourt, while being pursued in turn by ex-evangelist turned nightclub hostess Reno Sweeney.

Amid the romance, gangster Moonface Martin and a smattering of dim-witted FBI agents add high farce to this show from the golden age of musical comedy.

Angela plays Evangeline Harcourt. “She's horrible,” laughs Angela. “She's the ambitious, money-grabbing mother of Hope Harcourt who's managed to get her engaged to an English lord.

“Her husband was a victim of the Wall Street Crash and jumped off a building. She's probably down to her last half-million!”

Naturally, the course of true love doesn't run smoothly between Hope and her beau, no thanks to Evangeline's interference.

“She's a hard, domineering mother, quite determined that her daughter will do exactly as she says,” says Angela. “She goes into hysterics at the slightest thing. She's a comic character - completely over the top.”

That's in complete contrast to Angela's persona as a broadcaster, where she's the epitome of calm authority.

Playing the role, she says, has been an enormous challenge. “Everything I've ever done has been as Angela Rippon so it was great to take on the persona of another character. I like to think I'm not hysterical or money-grabbing!”

Starring alongside her is Michael Starke, best known for his roles as Sinbad in Brookside and Ken Hopkirk in ITV1's Sunday night drama The Royal, now in its fifth series.

Reno Sweeney is played by Ria Jones, a huge star in her native Wales, while ex-Hi-de-Hi! star Barry Howard plays tycoon Elisha Whitney.

The show features classic tunes including You're The Top, It's De-lovely, Anything Goes and I Get A Kick Out Of You.

Angela is full of admiration for her fellow performers and the production team, not least choreographer Bill Deamer.

She's modest about her own performance. “I'm not trained for this, and I'm very fortunate that the piece I'm doing doesn't require enormous acting skills. I don't put myself in the league of people that have those skills.”

Angela underwent nearly four weeks of rehearsals for Anything Goes, and says her fitness regime prepared her well for the dancing.

“I play tennis, I do yoga so I'm pretty fit. I have to be for all the daft things they ask me to do for the Holiday programme!

“As someone who has to interpret scripts, it was just taking a step in another direction. It's about being a sponge, saying 'I know nothing - what do I do?'

“It is hard work, but television is hard work.”

When the show's run ends on Saturday evening, Angela will return to her more familiar role as a TV presenter. She'll begin work on two more TV projects for the BBC: Sun, Sea & Bargain Spotting and the Holiday programme, where she's become a regular.

But she's enjoyed the opportunity to do something different. After all, it's not as if she has much left to prove in television.

“At my age I can do anything I like,” she says. “I've been there, done that and got several T-shirts.

“To do something like this for three months for a challenge has been so exciting and so different.”

Although the image of Angela as a newsreader is an enduring one, she says: “I only read the news for a relatively short time.”

Nevertheless, her work has mainly been centred on her first love of news and current affairs, although she's been equally at home presenting programmes in a lighter vein.

Memorably, these include Come Dancing, axed by the BBC. “When they took Come Dancing off I was bombarded with people saying 'Why are they doing it?'

“There were reasons - decisions made by the BBC hierarchy - but I used to say, 'It's a huge mistake'.”

Yet the show's successor, Strictly Come Dancing, has been a huge ratings success. Angela loves it, and feels its success vindicates her point of view. “Strictly Come Dancing is such a glorious programme,” she says.

“I think it has been inspired. It proves what I have been saying. People in this country love colourful, glamorous programmes with an element of competition.”

So would Angela return to the stage, or is her appearance in Anything Goes a one-off?

“I think that's down to other people. I think I probably would think about it. It would depend very much on the role.”

t Anything Goes is at Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday to Saturday, April 24 to 29, 7.30pm. Matinees Wednesday and Saturday, 2pm. Tickets £5 to £27.50. Discounts for Friends, over-60s, under-18s and groups. Box office: 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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