Josie takes centre stage

From EastEnders to the West End, actress Josie Lawrence speaks to Talk of the Town’s Calum Fraser about life in the entertainment industry and taking on the lead role in Mother Courage and Her Children.

Rehearsals for Mother Courage and Her Children are in full swing. Josie Lawrence hurries backstage to get a quick lunch down her and have a chat with us before she has to return to rehearsals, taking on the lead role as Mother Courage. She’s very excited, to say the least.

“It’s a character and a play I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 when I first read it. I would read plays like they were novels.

“But I have never seen a production. I didn’t want to have another image in my head before taking it on.”

Written by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht after the Nazis invaded Poland, and set during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, Mother Courage confronts the brutal realities of the conflict and the impact this had on civilian life.

Anna Fierling  follows soldiers roaming across Europe selling odd bits to them, looking to make a few bucks from the misery.

“I was gripped by Mother Courage herself and what the play says about war. It takes you on a journey,” said Ms Lawrence.

“Mother Courage is this hard nut businesswoman but she’s also a mother living in a chaotic world.

“Nobody knows who’s fighting who. She just sells her wares to anyone and tries to look after her three children, taking sides with whoever is winning.

“There are great moments of loving and great moments of anger.”

Mother Courage is considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century and it brought Brecht’s Epic theatre style to an international audience.

With Epic theatre Brecht wanted to interrupt the audiences’ comfortable consumption of theatre to force them to think about the moral and political dilemmas behind the action. Performed at the Southwark Playhouse, the audience surrounds the stage.

Ms Lawrence said: “It’s very intimate, constantly moving and fun. Bloody tragic at times as well.

“We are really close to you. Mother Courage can almost be sitting next to you, talking to you.

“It’s a little irreverent and mad as well. I think it will be a bloody enjoyable night out.”

No performance is guaranteed to be the same, though. Ms Lawrence came to national attention starring in the improvisation comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway.

She spent years acting out hilarious improvised scenarios with the likes of Stephen Fry and Paul Merton.

“If someone forgets their lines in the play, I’m so used to it I could just make something up,” she said.

“Improvisation has always been part of acting, though. People know me as a comedy performer but most of the work I have done over the years has been in theatre.

“It’s silly for people to ask whether you are a serious actor or a comedy actor.
“I think when you come into the entertainment business you should be called a performer,” she said.

Ms Lawrence has taken on a variety of female leads during her career. From Beatrice in The Taming of the Shrew for the Royal Shakespeare Company to Manda Best in EastEnders.
As an actress who has been in the thick of the UK’s entertainment industry for the past two decades, she had heard of experiences similar to those that have come out in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

She said: “It happened and I am aware of it. I luckily have never had to be on that side of it. But I’ve known actresses who have.

“Hopefully now that more and more very brave women are speaking out, not just about Weinstein but about other people as well, then perhaps they won’t do it anymore.”

Despite this, Ms Lawrence wants to inspire more young performers to break into the industry.

She said: “One of the most important things for young actresses and actors is to know your history, know who the greats have been.

“If you are not acting in a play at the moment then just get together with other performers and make stuff happen. Even if it is in your own living room, read a play or devise a piece.

“It’s a very tough profession but it is a great career if you can make it work.”

Mother Courage and her Children, translated by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, is directed by Hannah Chissick and produced by Daneille Tarento. The play will run from November 2 until December 9 at the Southwark Playhouse.

See for tickets.

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