A Woolf in Sian’s clothing

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SIAN Thomas will be immediately familiar to millions of younger theatre-goers as canny witch Amelia Bones – head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in two of the Harry Potter blockbusters.

“It wasn’t a huge part but it was such a nice thing to be involved in,” she recalls. “It gave lots of work to English character actors. It’s been a nice little club to belong to.”

John Hopkins and Lorna Beckett in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

John Hopkins and Lorna Beckett in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The films – the Half Blood Prince and the Order of the Phoenix – raised Sian’s profile and led to her playing “a pretty weird character” in the film Perfume around that time.

But she is more than happy to be back in the immediacy of a theatrical environment.

“This is where the meat is. I’ve done a lot more theatre than film. I’m a theatre animal, this is where I live.

“Film is great because it is different in some senses, but you’re still just doing your job. There’s more of a safety net in some ways.

“This has got such a momentum and you power your way through in the driving seat. In a film you’re not – the editor and director are. You’re doing it in bite size chunks whereas this is one big meal.”

And in Albee’s explosive masterpiece, set in the early 1960s, Sian gets to grips with an emotionally raw and ferociously funny script that captures the mood of a society on the brink of change.

Fifty years on, the volatile relationship issues it raises remain as present as ever.

Does Sian think it makes us learn something about her own relationships, even if it is just to say ‘I hope I never end up like that’?

“I think so,” she nods. “Albee’s such an amazing writer.This is my third play by him so you keep learning the marvellous, curious deep caste of his mind. He often puts very specific stage directions about how to deliver the line.

“It’s like a clue, teasing something out. It’s almost like the words are code for some huge subtext that’s going on, like in life. I hope when people come to see it they will look at their own lives, which are hopefully not as bad as that.

“This is still entertainment but it’s guts entertainment. It’s not like a lesson; it’s hugely theatrical and very funny – and that’s how they score.

“Albee is clever, he gets you to adore these people even though they’re monsters, because they’re so funny and then you get plunged into the darker side, but hopefully people will go with it because of that.

“They’re not all bad, George and Martha, they’re kind of glorious. They go down blazing and it’s not over at the end of the play. They’re left with a new version of themselves. They’re forced to look at each other and cut out all the pretence and I think every couple needs to know that could, that should happen.”

IF you’re going to be tearing into someone in public it’s maybe best that you know them.

In the case of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Sian Thomas gets to battle with actor pal Jasper Britton.

“I feel thrilled because Jasper’s the most glorious actor, he’s the best,” she says. “I’m not just saying that, I’ve told him to his face. That’s my opinion.

“And because I already know him you’ve got a lot between you before you start. You can use that in some strange way.

“It’s a sort of trust.

“We’ve been in the same play at the National but not quite this intimate, and remained good friends.”

Jasper, half brother of TV presenter Fern Britton, plays Sian’s university professor husband George in this story of a social gathering that becomes the booze-fuelled stage for a cruel matrimonial showdown.

“It’s a very complicated relationship but I think they do love each other, deep down. It’s just gone horribly wrong.

“It’s not like it’s empty and cynical, it just looks like that from the outside.

“They can’t do without each other. So somewhere it’s based on love that’s gone wrong rather than nothingness.

“It’s elastic and if you suddenly take the other person away all the fun’s gone, all the point and fire and games. This couple plays endless games.”

Also on stage are Nick (played by former Midsomer Murders star John Hopkins) and his wife (Lorna Beckett), who witness this extraordinary relationship unfold.

“It’s brutal. It’s like a boxing match, these two prize fighters going at each other but the rules change and get more complicated and the other two characters are there to bounce off. They use them.

“They’re important because Martha and George need an audience within their marriage, to be cruel to and to use and in that sense it becomes quite theatrical.”

Virginia Woolf is directed by Erica Whyman, who previously directed The Birthday Party at the Crucible.

“I think of it being done in a small theatre because it’s about real people in a confined space,” says Sian.

“There’s just four of them and it’s very naturalistic.

“On another level it’s huge. I’m hoping it will still work in a big space; if you do it right and the passion is right you can reach out to a much bigger space than you think.”