Siân loves to be working late

Actress Sian Phillips poses for photographer during rehearsals for the London Concert for Peace at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, Wednesday 19th March 2003. The concert will take place at the Theatre on Sunday 23rd March. PA Photo Myung Jung Kim
Actress Sian Phillips poses for photographer during rehearsals for the London Concert for Peace at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, Wednesday 19th March 2003. The concert will take place at the Theatre on Sunday 23rd March. PA Photo Myung Jung Kim

A new musical by the writer of Calendar Girls, Tim Firth, is premiering in the Crucible Studio and it has brought the distinguished actress Siân Phillips to Sheffield.

Still indelibly associated with the ruthlessly ambitious mother and empress Livia in Seventies TV classic I, Claudius she is playing a grandmother showing early signs of Alzheimer’s in This Is My Family By contrast the actress is as bright as a button and fit as a fiddle thanks in some way to walking everywhere and Pilates (she has signed up for classes in Sheffield)

Whisper it gently but last month she reached her 80th year but she does not see it as a milestone. “I never think about it and don’t even celebrate my birthday,” she says. “It comes and goes every year without me noticing it.”

That might have something to do with constantly working. “I am busy until next April,” she reports. “Straight after this I am going to the National to take over in Alan Bennett’s People which I will take out on tour and then I am going to play Lady Bracknell in Washington. It’s a role that I had always turned down because I thought I was much too old for but now I thought what the hell and I do want to be in Washington.”

She says she works in America at least once every 18 months thanks to a green card, though it was not until the early Nineties she felt the US was a safe place to go.

But back to This Is My Family. Having had “a hoot” of a time on a previous Tim Firth show, Calendar Girls, she agreed to be involved right from its early stages.

“We started workshopping it about 18 months ago and I think I must have done three jobs since then and been abroad but I kept coming back to it even though I had no idea what the show was going to be like because it was very embryonic. I fell in love with it and just got hooked by the music and the bits that were added each time we came back to it. It always had this kind of magic for me.”

“My character’s got the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and it’s a nice treatment that Tim has given it. It’s got the comedy the anger and the pathos, and I love the music and the lyrics and what dialogue there is, which is in the music - I think it’s rather innovative.”

Phillips was 40 before she did her first musical, Pal Joey, and has since gone on to do several more - Marlene, A Little Light Music, Cabaret - earning Olivier and Tony nominations along the way.

Surprisingly late considering her Welsh background which would suggest musical genes. “Well that doesn’t follow,” she says, “I had to do a lot of running to catch up, do a lot of lessons. I love doing musicals but when I was young it was a bridge you didn’t cross if you were a classical actress. People didn’t do that. It was lucky for me I got a chance to do that later on.”

This Is My Family runs from June 19 to July 20