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Stepping into an old lady's shoes

Written by Vanessa Marchant, who plays Mrs Wilberforce in our upcoming production of 'The Ladykillers'.

When I was cast as Mrs Wilberforce in the New Stagers production of The Ladykillers, I was most concerned with how fun and engaging the script was. The silly gags (the questionable gags) and all the slapstick. Since COVID I have been drawn to comedy, trying to shrug off the fug of doom and gloom that the news keeps trying to drag me into. This play does that, it’s great fun and very silly.

What I hadn’t really expected was how the process of ageing up would affect me emotionally. As someone who is a ‘bit’ younger than Mrs W, it’s often easy to think of playing a granny as a bit of fun. Grey wig, baggy tights and a stoop. But as indomitable as Mrs W is, she is also vulnerable, lonely and a bit sad. She is hoodwinked by the gang because she ‘sees the best in everyone’ and that’s because she desperately wants friends, as is the sad truth for many elderly people in our society.

I have always tried to be on it with exercise and try to keep myself on the right side of trendy. For most this means ‘looking good for your age’ and that means, younger. But how to step out of this, how to speed forwards instead of backwards?

When it came to makeup, it’s like using it in reverse. Don’t cover the wrinkles, add to them.

Don’t make your eyes look bigger, minimise them, don’t cover the freckles, make them larger...

This trend continues with the physicality. Don’t walk fast, don’t hold your back straight, don’t

make your voice too clear, reduce, reduce, reduce... and the result is a window on what is to

come. Unsettling and also liberating. It’s interesting to see how it feels to not be seeking

approval in how you look. A good day is one where the aches and pains are at a minimum.

I hope I do Mrs W justice as a vibrant human and not just a parody of an old person. I also hope I get to see the same age as Mrs Wilberforce. I’d like to be as principled as her and as proactive in creating a social life. I also hope I can affect those around me and not be ‘condemned to a dreadful fate.’

The script twists and turns, pivoting and keeping the laughs coming with Mrs W as the straight ‘man’, steady and true. But also each character has their arc, moving from the caricature into meaningful insight.

A comedy, but with teeth, and that’s the best kind in my opinion.

Find out more about the show and book your tickets here: The Ladykillers.


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