The Lady putting in a killer performance
PUBLISHED: 09:13 08 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:13 08 March 2013
She is best known for playing Frank Spencer's long suffering spouse Betty. Now Michele Dotrice has turned her attention to another well-known female comedy creation - the apparently doddery Mrs Wilberforce in The Ladykillers. JOHN BULTITUDE found out more.
Through the 1970s, Michele was arguably one of Britain’s best-known comedy actresses playing the long-suffering Betty in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. As her madcap husband Frank came up with ever more bizarre ways to complete the most simple tasks usually resulting in some rib-tickling stunt, her job was to keep a straight face while everyone around failed to do so.
It was a role which made her a household name as well as an iconic comedy performer with re-runs making both her — and the show — still incredibly popular around four decades since it was first transmitted.
Her on-screen double act with co-star Michael Crawford was one of the great examples of TV comedy chemistry and the performers are still in touch with each other, meeting up socially when they can.
“We went to see Spamalot together. It was hysterical because the cast suddenly went into a whole Frank and Betty routine on stage after being tipped off that we were in the audience. It was wonderfully funny,” says Michele.
It is not just Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em that is bringing her perfect comedy timing to a new audience. She is also playing one of the lead roles in the hugely-popular touring stage version of The Ladykillers, which continues tonight and tomorrow at the Theatre Royal.
It will see her play the sweet little old Mrs Wilberforce who lives alone in a gloriously lopsided house. Her day-to-day life is disrupted when a gang of criminals, posing as musicians, move into her home while they plan the perfect heist; setting the scene for a battle of wits between her - and her trusty parrot General Gordon - and the increasingly desperate gang.
Based on the Ealing comedy and penned by Graham Linehan, best known for writing TV hit Father Ted, it also boasts a strong supporting cast including Clive Mantle (Casualty and The Vicar of Dibley) and Cliff Parisi (Minty in EastEnders, Call The Midwife).
“It is an absolute joy to work on. I work with some wonderful actors and the show is such fun. Everyone in Norwich will enjoy it so much,” says Michele, adding there’s something funny for everyone to enjoy.
“If it’s physical comedy you like, we’ve got it. If it’s witty banter, we’ve got that too. We’ve had very young audiences at the show as well as the older generation. My grandchildren loved it,”
It is the latest role for Michele who may have always been destined for a theatrical career. Her father Roy was a household name and that mix of top-notch performing genetics and a dedication to her craft paved the way for success.
She started her career proper joining the Royal Shakespeare Company aged 16, appearing in productions like Henry V, The Jew of Malta and starring opposite her father in Puntilla.
From there, the part of Betty came along. Although it may be her best-known role, she has enjoyed a wide-range of TV parts from A Month In The Country and Vanity Fair to Mrs Bradley’s Mysteries and a cameo on The Morecambe and Wise Show.
Michele is also no stranger to the stage, recently starring in When We Are Married at the Garrick Theatre as well as a host of other productions including The Servant of Two Masters, Richard III and The Beggars Opera.
Despite the high profile role of Betty, Michele has fortunately been able to do a wide range of work; although it was sometimes an uphill struggle to prove to directors and producers how versatile she was.
“They only saw me as Betty for a while, but I look back at the show with fondness and it still gets new audiences.”
She is hoping to gain a whole new generation of fans as Mrs Wilberforce.
“It is actually a very different part from anything I’ve done before. I’ve never played a woman of this age for a start. She is a lonely, innocent, little old busy body but is not as stupid as you think she is. It is very funny and a lark.”
With her characteristic cheeky good humour, she admits she is delighted to still be working in the tough economic climate – especially alongside such a highly respected and loved cast.
With a smile, she says: “I’m the only woman with five men. How bad can that be?”
t The Ladykillers, Norwich Theatre Royal, March 8, 7.30pm/March 9, 2.30pm/7.30pm, £23.50-£5.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk