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Actress talks about career from a bean to Lady Bracknell
Leading television and stage actress Gwen Taylor has come a long way since appearing as a jumping bean in her first ever professional role more than four decades ago. In fact, the esteemed actor - whose hit TV shows include popular comedy series Duty Free and A Bit of a Do - is still creating theatrical firsts at this stage of her illustrious career. For, not only has Gwen 'flown' over an audience for the very first time, she is also now taking on the role of the indomitable Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest. I caught up with Gwen shortly after she arrived in Plymouth just three weeks into the UK tour of The Importance of Being Earnest, produced by The Original Theatre Company, which continues on the road until the middle of May, including a week-long run at the Lichfield Garrick theatre in March.
Gwen Taylor currently starring as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Credit Jay Brooks
She says: "I love the role of Lady Bracknell because she's flamboyant, she's a bit outrageous, and I like the period it's set in, 1895. I also like wearing the corsets! I wouldn't say playing Lady Bracknell has been on my mind for years, but I love playing people who aren't necessarily sympathetic and exploring that with an audience. There is also a relevance with the issue of arranged marriages that still happen today as she is trying to marry her daughter off to someone of her choice to prolong the reputation of the family." At the age of 78, when people in most other professions would have long since retired, Gwen is happily continuing to forge a career that began with that performance of a jumping bean in the pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, in her home city at the Derby Playhouse. She adds: "I haven't stopped working since last October, so I think I will be ready for a break come May as we've hardly had a day off since the tour began. Touring does take it out of you, especially at my ripe old age! But I'm really pleased that I've had a varied career, and have enjoyed so much of the work I have done over the years."
Actress Gwen Taylor continues to enjoy a successful stage and TV career
That work included the role of Amy Pearce in hit television comedy Duty Free from 1984 to 1986, a role which she later reprised during a national stage tour set some 25 years later. She also starred as Rita Simcock opposite David Jason in two series of A Bit of a Do, for which she was nominated for a BAFTA in 1990, the title role in Barbara between 1999 and 2003, Peg in Heartbeat from 2005-09, and, most recently, Ann Foster in Coronation Street during 2011 and 2012, in which she ended up killing her rapist son. In addition, she has made appearances in shows ranging from Inspector Morse, The Sweeney, and Murder Most Horrid to Holby City, Ripping Yarns and The Billy Plays with Kenneth Branagh, while her wealth of theatrical experience includes national tours of shows such as Driving Miss Daisy, Calendar Girls, Picasso's Women, Shirley Valentine, in which she played the title role, and Gertrude in Sir Peter Hall's Hamlet. She also starred in Love, a play written by her playwright husband, Graham Reid. Although she has never enjoyed the same success in films, for reasons best known to the movie industry, she nevertheless appeared in the likes of Another Mother's Son, The Lady in the Van, and Monty Python's The Life of Brian.
Gwen Taylor brings her Lady Bracknell to a theatre near you. Credit The Other Richard
Gwen, who appears in The Importance of Being Earnest alongside Downton Abbey favourite Thomas Howes, West End star Peter Sandys-Clarke, and Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire), has no intention of bringing the curtain down on her wonderful career just yet. She says: "I would like to do more film, although I do find it a tedious medium having to stand around waiting a lot of the time. My dearest wish would be a Downton Abbey type television series, but Maggie Smith has already done that. I am still open to offers and would only turn something down if I couldn't manage it energy-wise. I am both surprised and happy that I'm still busy at this stage of my career. I don't want to stop." In fact, Gwen would quite like a return to Coronation Street some day. "I knew it was going to be a very short contract but I would love to go back as some old toothless lady." What about reprising the role of Anne Foster? "She's either in jail or Broadmoor, but you never know. She could come back." Certainly, Gwen broke new ground in her return to panto in Derby last November and December as the Enchantress in Beauty and the Beast. She adds: "I flew over the audience which was so much fun, waving to everybody. I loved it. That was a first and, quite possibly, a last. But I've certainly come full circle from playing a jumping bean to an enchantress and Lady Bracknell."
The Lichfield Garrick stages The Importance of Being Earnest in March
The Importance of Being Earnest can be seen at the Lichfield Garrick from Tuesday 27 March until Saturday 31 March 2018 with a variety of evening and matinee performances. Tickets are priced from £23.50 and can be obtained by calling the Box Office on 01543 412121 or by visiting www.lichfieldgarrick.com
13 – 17 February Plymouth Theatre Royal Plymouth 20 – 24 February Belfast Belfast Grand Opera House 27 February – 3 March Bath Theatre Royal
5 – 10 March Winchester Theatre Royal Winchester 13 – 17 March Manchester Manchester Opera House
20 – 24 March Salisbury Salisbury Playhouse
27 – 31 March Lichfield Lichfield Garrick Theatre
3 – 7 April Bromley Churchill Theatre, Bromley
9 – 14 April Cambridge Cambridge Arts Theatre
17 – 21 April York York Theatre Royal
24 – 28 April Eastbourne Devonshire Park Theatre
30 April – 5 May Windsor Theatre Royal