Living life at full throttle in her Eighties, Gwen is a bit marvellous. Not only does her biog include TV work on favourite shows such as Coronation Street, Heartbeat, A Bit of A Do and Duty Free, but she also has film appearances including The Lady in the Van and Monty Python's Life of Brian to her credit. Oh, and let’s not forget her numerous roles on stage and the fact that she has won several awards for her work.
But almost as remarkable as her career itself is the fact that at the age of 80 she is still living life at a lively pace, embracing a weekly touring schedule that would daunt younger actors.
“I am thriving on it. I love to work and I love a challenge,” she says, a beaming smile confirming her genuine passion for schlepping up and down the country to perform.
“Although,” she amends, “my husband comes with me and we do stay in hotels these days.”
The challenge in question is a new play, The Croft, which will be performed at Derby Theatre in the city where Gwen was born, from January 27 to February 1.
Described by director Philip Franks as ‘a thriller with romance and secrets at its heart,’ The Croft by Abi Miles is based on a true story. Set in a remote Scottish village, the lives of three women from different eras are intertwined by the croft's dark history. In the 1880s, Enid, the last person left in the village, takes in the laird's pregnant daughter, Eilene. In 2005, Ruth occupies the croft, which she and her husband Tom bought as a holiday home and where Ruth has her affair with a local man. In the present day, Ruth’s daughter, Laura returns with her friend Suzanne after her mother’s death and together they discover the terrifying truth that lurks within the croft.
“It is so exciting,” Gwen enthuses. “I just think of this as real trailblazing – my character blazes a trail for the two ladies that appear later in the play. Her courage is amazing. She is resilient and a survivor; a really strong female character. That really appealed to me when I first read the play.“People love a good thriller, be it a book, a film or a play, but I think a stage production is different because of the involvement an audience feels and those moments when people jump as one. It is a mix of anticipation, live performance and fantastic storytelling – and this is a great story. You’ll be trying to guess what might happen but the action may not go the way you think it will,” she teases.
Tickets are £20 to see The Croft. Call 01332 593939 or go to www.derbytheatre.co.uk
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