Sian in woolf’s clothing

Sian Thomas as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Sian Thomas as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

WHEN asked what drew her to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sian Thomas lists “the part, the play and the writer”.

The writer is Edward Albee and this is the third time she has appeared in one of his plays and can lay claim to having actually met the now octogenerian.

Early in her career the actress appeared in A Delicate Balance among a distinguished female ensemble. “Maggie Smith was my auntie, Eileen Atkins my mother and Annette Crosbie the neighbour. I remember Edward coming to rehearsals and being nice. I was the baby of the cast .

“This time last year I was in The Goat (a play apparently about a man who falls in love with the titular beast) at the Traverse in Edinburgh and we all had to be vetted by Edward. He wanted to know everything down to the colour of the set.”

Now she is in Albee’s most famous play as Martha, volatile wife of a history professor in a New England college, with whom she is engaged in a ferocious verbal battle.

“It’s the early Sixties and there is a very different kind of mood here than plays you associate with that time like Neil Simon comedies,” she says. Martha is very much a woman of her time, she says, but at the same time: “She is a life force with a Dionysian spirit and along with the darkness there is a humour between George and Martha.”

On screen Thomas has been part of the Harry Potter “club,” as she puts it, which has given work to a band of British character actors. In parts five and six, the Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince, she played Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, a good witch who came to a sticky end after passing on a warning to the boy wizard. “It was a nice scene,” reflects the actress who wasn’t bothered that she will not be continuing in the franchise. She regards herself primarily as a theatre animal.

Perhaps her most daunting role was the one her partner, the poet Tony Harrison, wrote for her in 2008. It was wonderful to have a meaty role at the National Theatre in 2008 but she felt a great responsibility to do justice to it, she says.

Also appearing in that play, Fram, was Jasper Britton who is playing opposite her at the Crucible as husband George.

The actress is also familiar with the theatre, appearing in the Clare Venables era in the early Eighties as Ophelia and even more memorably in A Passion in Six Days, the controversial political “musical” about the Labour Party Conference. “I took all my clothes off and I also had to sing. It was scary,” she remembers.

Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs at the Crucible until April 7.