A tiny actress with a big reputation

Rebecca Lacey as Sheila in Benefactors
Rebecca Lacey as Sheila in Benefactors
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REBECCA Lacey knew what she wanted to do from the age of five.

“But I didn’t always articulate it because having two parents who were actors... it’s the last thing they want,” she recalls ahead of appearing in Benefactors, the comedy opening at Crucible Studio tonight.

Casualty - Episode 2 - Private lives - Rebecca Lacey as George, Paterson Joseph as Mark and Claire Goose as Tina.

Casualty - Episode 2 - Private lives - Rebecca Lacey as George, Paterson Joseph as Mark and Claire Goose as Tina.

When she went with her dad Ronald Lacey to a preview screening of Raiders Of The Lost Ark – a film he was starring in – her mind was definitely made up.

“I started very young, probably a couple of years after that, but I remember going to a cast and crew showing of the film in Leicester Square.

“My dad said to us ‘I don’t know what this will be like – sorry if it’s a bit boring’. We sat there and we were totally blown away. That was the beginning of this amazing thing and it did great things for his career at that time.”

Rebecca hasn’t exactly done badly either. Amid an extensive CV she can count some high-profile hits, including playing Hilary in BBC sitcom May To December and a two-year stint in Casualty as tough-talking Dr Georgina Woodman.

Susannah York & Rebecca Lacey in Amy's View on National Tour

Susannah York & Rebecca Lacey in Amy's View on National Tour

“My husband called me Doctor Death because every character I’d treat died later. That wasn’t quite true.”

After two years, however, Rebecca left the series to avoid getting locked into a role. Now some people don’t readily associate her Casualty shift with May To December.

“I made the right decision for me; profile-wise maybe not. I think a lot of people didn’t and still don’t realise I’m the same person, which is the biggest compliment you could possibly pay me.

“I had an argument with someone who said I wasn’t the girl from May To December. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Picture Shows: REBECCA LACEY as Claire Armitage'TX: BBC ONE Sunday July 11, 1999'WARNING: This copyright image may be used only to publicise current BBC programmes or other BBC output. Any other use whatsoever without specific prior approval from the BBC may result in legal action.''Jerome Flynn stars as DC Tom McCabe, a detective in charge of policing wildlife crime in the north east of England, in BBC ONE's new drama series, 'Badger'.  Flynn is joined by Rebecca Lacey as Claire Armitage, an investigator for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Adrian Bower as McCabe's young assistant, Cassidy, and Phillippa Wilson as Steph Allen, McCabe's girlfirend, who runs the local animal sanctuary.'McCabe is called to a house in the city in order to rescue a pet, only to find that the pet is a nine foot alligator

Picture Shows: REBECCA LACEY as Claire Armitage'TX: BBC ONE Sunday July 11, 1999'WARNING: This copyright image may be used only to publicise current BBC programmes or other BBC output. Any other use whatsoever without specific prior approval from the BBC may result in legal action.''Jerome Flynn stars as DC Tom McCabe, a detective in charge of policing wildlife crime in the north east of England, in BBC ONE's new drama series, 'Badger'. Flynn is joined by Rebecca Lacey as Claire Armitage, an investigator for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Adrian Bower as McCabe's young assistant, Cassidy, and Phillippa Wilson as Steph Allen, McCabe's girlfirend, who runs the local animal sanctuary.'McCabe is called to a house in the city in order to rescue a pet, only to find that the pet is a nine foot alligator

Rebecca’s theatre career began aged 19 at West Yorkshire Playhouse and has brought her twice through Sheffield – including a tour of David Hare play Amy’s View – as well as watching other plays while visiting a friend in the city.

“I am impressed with Sheffield. It’s somewhere you really want to be,” she says in a break from rehearsals for Benefactors, in which she is part of two couples with differing fortunes and outlooks.

“Sheila is a timid and insecure character bullied by her husband Colin. He goes off the rails, she goes off the rails. It’s one of those, but because it’s Michael Frayn it’s very cleverly orchestrated.

“It’s a beautifully crafted piece. Frayn’s so clever at dealing with themes and issues, so there’s the philosophy of change; how people change and buildings change. He manages to weave so brilliantly these two things and the collapse of one man’s career by the other.

Andrew Woodall as Colin in Benefactors

Andrew Woodall as Colin in Benefactors

“These couples start off as friends. One is successful and ideological, the other not and I’m playing the wife of the unsuccessful guy. Frayn is dealing with themes of success and failure. My character wants to be like the other couple so she emulates and wants to be part of that and puts herself in their relationship almost.

“The whole theme is of benefacting, doing good; this couple who are successful are do-gooders, feel privileged to have achieved things and they want to share it with their friends.

“Is that always a good thing, is the question Michael is asking. In this case it isn’t. Should you interfere? Should you feel guilty about being successful? Should you try to help other people or will it be seen as patronising? He deals with those as well as big themes about change.”

Rebecca describes Frayn as “like a foundation” for actors and enthuses over a writer who tackles an incredible range of subjects and makes them palatable.

“He’s always been there but because the man himself is quite humble maybe his plays haven’t come to the forefront in the same way as other writers.

“Also his plays are perceived as clever so potentially inaccessible. I remember going to see Copenhagen in the West End thinking I’m going to have to really steel myself for this... I was blown away.

“What he does so brilliantly is make you feel like you’re clever. That’s the skill of him serving things up in an accessible way.”

Benefactors is, however, the most obviously accessible of the three Frayns in Sheffield, beside Copenhagen and Democracy.

“It’s set in the 1960s but it’s about what we would perceive as ordinary people’s lives. These are people we have direct access to, living a life we might understand.”

Benefactors, also starring Simon Wilson, Andrew Woodall and Abigail Cruttenden, runs until March 24.

Lacey is not so pacy since she took on the role of a mum

AS a mum of two Rebecca Lacey clearly has to juggle her love of acting with maternal duties in London.

So it is a credit to Frayn that she has been lured away from her home.

“There has to be a really good reason to take me away from the kids,” she concurs, “Although they’re getting used to this being what I do and they’re proud. They saw me do a show and I was on the poster and they were able to take it into school.

“We see amazing things on screen now and most of it kids don’t think is real because it’s computer generated. So to go and see real stuff is important.”

Having taken time out of her career for her children, now aged six and nine, Rebecca admits she was lucky enough to come back, even if she had to turn down some jobs as her director husband was away.

Besides the lure of Frayn, Rebecca also says she was taken by the intimacy of the Studio setting.

“It liberates you from a lot of technical, vocal things. You don’t have to project yourself. It’s so right for this play, set in a kitchen in 1968.

“It makes you focus more so it’s a much more enjoyable experience. You see the eyes of the audience but that means you really have to focus on what you’re talking about. It’s very good exercise for any actor to play this sort of space.

“And I prefer this kind of comedy. It’s a play, real characters with comic edges. Sheila has a tragi-comic edge, not a cardboard cut-out. I love making people laugh but it’s got to come from somewhere as I’m an actor not a comedian.

“She’s as sad as she is funny. Hopefully the humour will come from that, not because the lines are cracking one liners but because the characters and the way they interact are recognisable like the best Ayckbourn.”

Certainly Rebecca is in boyant mood having done a run through with Frayn present.

“We were absolutely terrified but he’s so lovely I don’t know why we were; because he’s called Michael Frayn, because he’s got such an amazing brain, not because he’s frightening. But he couldn’t have been more generous to us.”

As for what’s next. Rebecca says her calendar could take her either way as she refuses to commit to a format.

“I go through phases but I started out in television. That was my training. I didn’t go to drama school so I had this idea television work was easy and real work was theatre. If you speak to people in theatre all they want to do is television and vice versa.

“Actors are very different in things they require. I need to try different characters. That’s what stimulates me and stimulates an audience. If you’re getting bored the audience will.

“You have to have a sixth sense about yourself and I’ve been extremely lucky. I’m lucky I love my job, lots of people don’t.”