Actress shows age is no barrier

Shaun Williamson (back left), Clive Mantle (back right) and Michele Dotrice  are among the stars of the touring production of The Ladykillers.
Shaun Williamson (back left), Clive Mantle (back right) and Michele Dotrice are among the stars of the touring production of The Ladykillers.

A STAGE version of Fifties movie black comedy The Ladykillers became an unlikely West End hit and is now coming to Sheffield on tour.

Father Ted writer Graham Linehan has adapted the Ealing comedy about a gang of incompetent crooks who hide out posing as musicians in a boarding house run by a sweet old lady.

Michelle Dotrice, who plays landlady Mrs Wilberforce, says she didn’t see the play in the West End but remembers the film well. “The show keeps close to the movie because Graham Linnehan’s script is very funny and clever. It keeps the period and all of that,” she says.

“It will be the first time I have played an 80-year-old and it helped that I had my dad to help me,” she continue. That’s Roy Dotrice who very often played characters substantially older than himself. “He’s 89 now and still working away,” she reports. “He divides his time between London and Los Angeles but he recently stayed with me in Cornwall. He’s very energetic, he exhausts me.

“When he was doing Brief Lives (his famous one-man show as 17th century eccentric John Aubrey) he spent three hours putting on make-up and he did it for about four years. Fortunately I don’t have to do any elaborate make-up.”

Michelle is fondly remembered as the long-suffering Betty in the Seventies sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave, opposite Michael Crawford.

“Michael came to see me recently, he was so excited that I had got the part,” she recounts. “He came round to the flat and started impersonating an old woman. In the end, I said, ‘Darling, do me a favour. you play it’.

“We hadn’t seen each other for a while. I was in America for a long time while Edward (her husband, the late Edward Woodward) was doing The Equalizer and for a long time I took a back seat.

“Michael lives in New Zealand and our paths didn’t cross for a while and then I saw him when he did Wizard of Oz.

“Some Mothers was an important time in my life. I was only 22 and to have that public success.

“It was watched by 20 million which was amazing having been at the RSC. Doing drama you don’t get the same recognition. And it’s still going out.”

She says she looks back fondly on the role even though she and Betty were totally different people.

“Ooh Betty became a catchphrase and my poor daughter went through it a bit because of that,” she recalls.

Perdita has followed her parents into the business just as Michelle did.

“When I was growing I was surrounded by the theatre. I walked on at the age of 11 and I was in Henry V when I was 16 with another teenager, Dennis Waterman.

“Perdita loves theatre that’s why I admire her. She wants to do theatre rather than look for overnight stardom which so many do today.”

Michelle Dotrice hasn’t lost her enthusiasm either.

“I love touring. Edward and I toured together in The Cemetery Club. I think it’s important to go around the country. We have such wonderful theatres. I am ashamed to say I have never appeared in Sheffield before but I am aware of what a vibrant centre it is.”

The Ladykillers is at the Lyceum Theatre from Monday to Saturday.