Rosemary is making noises on home turf

AWARD-WINNING Lowestoft actress Rosemary Ashe is back in the county appearing in Michael Frayn's theatrical farce Noises Off. She talks to DAVID HENSHALL about the joys of returning home.

AWARD-WINNING Lowestoft actress Rosemary Ashe is back in the county appearing in Michael Frayn's theatrical farce Noises Off. She talks to DAVID HENSHALL about the joys of returning home.

ROSEMARY Ashe, the original Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera, Olivier-nominated as Felicia in Witches of Eastwick and mainstay of many West End blockbusters, has seen it all.

Lowestoft born and bred, she's back on familiar territory, appearing at a theatre that she considers a sort of second home and in her most favourite straight play part.

Anybody who has ever had anything to do with putting on a play will have a story of humour or trauma about the things that go wrong during the production as well as the rehearsals.

There are backstage affairs too, and Michael Frayn's very funny Noises Off nails all these situations perfectly.

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Noises Off is the first big home-grown show of the New Wolsey in Ipswich's spring season.

Rosie was Dotty Otley once before, also directed by Peter Rowe when he staged it at Salisbury, and among her previous shows at the Wolsey are J B Priestley's When We Are Married, Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart, Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods and the title role in Annie Get Your Gun.

When it was launched in 1982 Noises Off won both the Olivier and the Evening Standard best play awards. 'It is a wonderful play, one of the best jobs I've ever had. When people ask me what are my favourite roles, Dolly Otley is always one of them, along with Phantom and Sweeney Todd, and I've been desperate to play her again. It's so thrilling to be doing it in Ipswich and with Peter directing once more.'

We first meet the characters at the technical rehearsal for a classic British sex farce called Nothing On when tempers are already fraying. The director is juggling simultaneous affairs, people are missing their cues, forgetting their lines and are having trouble with the props, notably plates of sardines.

To add to this the veteran actor is hitting the bottle, the matinee idol is worried about his motivation and by the time the play goes out on the road anything that can go wrong, does.

The story goes that Michael Frayn was standing in the wings watching a rehearsal of another of his shows. He said that what went on behind the scenes was funnier than the action on stage and that he must write a play about it. So he did. Rosie adds: 'I think he saw some shenanigans backstage.

'People in the theatre do have affairs and it can be the most awful thing when it ends. Michael Frayn has got so many things right but he doesn't send up the actors. He's true to how they are because he's so observant and writes so well.

'And things go wrong which at the time are terrible, but funny later. I was waiting to go on in Phantom and could see the company manager waving furiously at me from the other wing. He was trying to tell me not to go on but I did and there in the middle of the stage was the famous huge chandelier. It hadn't gone up, so I sang my cadenza walking round it. The manager let me finish, then came on and apologised to the audience and when the chandelier went up we did the scene again.'

She says it is no help having played Dolly before. 'I get odd flashback but I've had to completely re-learn it and Frayn has also rewritten bits of it. This is the version they did at the National a few years ago. And direction changes. I showed Peter my old script with a couple of notes on it and he said, 'Oh, god! We won't be doing that this time.''

So, how does she see Dolly now? 'I've got more maturity and I can identify with her character a bit more than 10 years ago. She certainly knows how to wind her lover up. I understand better what she's feeling because she's having an affair with a younger man and that's exactly what I'm doing.

'My marriage broke up a few years ago and I'm now with somebody who's younger so I can draw on that experience. It's quite interesting because, in the play, the younger man gets jealous and I have known this too.'

Noises Off has three acts. 'First the rehearsal of the play-within-a-play, the farce Nothing On - which is quite a good piece actually - and getting things wrong. In the second act the audience sees what's going on backstage while we are still performing upstage and the third act goes into a sort of surreal land with bits of the original and completely new stuff. It's a brain-fryer but every actor wants to do it because there's so much to it and it's such a brilliant piece of writing.'

So does she still Think Pink? This was the title of her cabaret act some time ago and given that name because pink is her favourite colour. 'I don't have a pink house any more because I've moved but I've got a pink car.'

Her Think Pink one-woman show of touching and funny songs, eventually became The Killer Soprano which was recorded.

When I tell Rosie my favourite number from the CD is Guess Who I Saw Today?, she roars with laughter - because, like Noises Off, it's all about an affair!

She's unlikely to grow out of that colour, she says. 'I'm wearing pink as my costume for Dolly Otley.'

Noises Off at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, is on from today to March 13. More details from the box office on 01473 295900.