Musical is deliberately not PC

EMMA OUTTEN Anna Winslet co-stars in the politically incorrect Thalidomide!! A Musical at Norwich Playhouse this Fridaye night. Emma Outten heard, amongst other things, how Anna would rather be the sister of Kate than of Jack the Ripper.

EMMA OUTTEN

When faced with the name Anna Winslet on a show's programme, there's just no getting away from that surname.

Does Kate's big sister care? No. In fact, she is hoping that the famous family name will guarantee even more “bums on seats” at Norwich Playhouse this Friday.

Anna is co-starring alongside one of the UK's best known disabled actors, Mat Fraser, in Thalidomide!! A Musical. If you think it sounds about as politically correct as Jerry Springer The Opera then you would be about right. Anna would be the first to agree that both musicals have come from “the same birth place.”

Written and composed by Mat, Thalidomide!! A Musical, tells the irreverent and totally un-PC story of a man with very short arms looking for true love and respect in a long-arm obsessed world.

The play is set against the backdrop of the Thalidomide drug scandal of the 1960s, when pregnant women were prescribed the drug to combat morning sickness. The side-effects of the drug were shocking - the most renowned result was Phocomelia, the name given to the limb deformities which developed in babies of women who took the drug.

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Thalidomide!! A Musical uses a range of musical genres to tell the tale of one “Monster baby” and his search for “non-Flipper” love. But the question is: can “short-armed” Glyn (Mat) and “long-armed” Katie (Anna) ever truly be in love?

Anna said: “When I first saw the script I thought 'This is so challenging'.”

The audition was equally challenging, as she recalled: “Mat said 'is there any chance you can do an imitation of me?'”

“Everyone can remember when kids were cruel,” said Anna. “I can remember, on the school bus, thinking 'grow up'. But I thought 'I know what Mat wants - he's challenging me'.”

Anna then got on with the job in hand. “I was really doing an imitation of a small child doing an imitation of someone.”

“Katie” was found. Both Anna, born in 1972, and Mat come from acting families (Mat's mother is the actress Paddy Glynn), whereas the acting gene in the Winslet family comes from Anna's father, Roger.

Roger worked in Norwich in the Sixties and as an actor on Tales of the Unexpected for Anglia TV. Nowadays he sings in a band called Bidgie Reef & The Gas. “He is a bit like Ian Dury,” said Anna.

Singing, said Anna, was “one of his first loves.” She added: “He dragged us around gigs and festivals when we were younger.”

Roger is disabled. “He had a quite severe boating accident,” explained Anna. “Now this is just a fantastic thing for him. It keeps him so vibrant and alive.”

Anna's mother, Sally, is not an actress, despite reports to the contrary. According to Anna, her mother would need “20,000 gins and tonics to get on stage!”

Then there's Kate, the first actress to receive four Oscar nominations before turning 30. Log on to the Thalidomide!! A Musical website, and most of the press articles run along the lines of “Anna, sister of Kate”.

It doesn't seem to trouble the elder sister. “That's cool,” said Anna. “It puts bums on seats because they like the name. It would be horrible if it said 'Jack the Ripper's sister'!” At least, explained Anna, “she's not horrible. She's not done anything bad.”

She then recalled her childhood with Kate. “We always did lots of play acting when we were tiny,” said Anna, “entertaining mum and dad and friends in the garden.”

Then Kate wanted to get serious. Anna said: “She wanted to go to stage school instead of secondary school. She absolutely loved that.”

Kate's first big break came at the age of 17, when she was cast in Heavenly Creatures, the 1994 film based on the true story of two girls who commit a brutal murder.

“Lo and behold”, said Anna, “that kick-started her film career.”

Anna had been the “token” member of the family to go to grammar school. “I wasn't interested in going to stage school,” she said.

“I went to grammar school, Kate went to stage school and Bethy went to comprehensive school, as did Joss.”

Youngest sister Beth is also an actress.

Nowadays Anna plays aunt to Mia, Kate's daughter with first husband James Threapleton; Joe, Kate's son with second husband Sam Mendes; and George, Beth's son. Anna's husband Ed Harcourt is also one of four siblings and, with all his nieces and nephews, Anna is auntie 11 times over.

Although Anna was happy to talk about her family, she was less happy to talk about her husband, but together they run Hogarth Productions, and the politically correct-sounding Sustainability Forum Theatre.

So what should the Norwich Playhouse audience expect?

“This is really non-politically correct,” said Anna. “Let's just throw caution to the wind.”

Thalidomide!! A Musical takes place at Norwich Playhouse, this Friday, September 22. Box Office: 01603 598598.

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