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From Corrie mum to a wicked stepmother
Published 07/04/14

Listen to Radio 2. I quite enjoy relaxing without any music at all. It’s quite a big part of my working life. At the moment working on part for Welsh National Opera Rossini’s Mose in Egitto, playing Elcia - Cardiff then on tour. So I’m having to learn two parts in two different languages, Italian and Czech.

If you follow a recording you end up sounding like a recording. I tend to try and learn it on my own by sitting down at the piano and picking out the notes. We have to get it pretty much learnt before we meet the other cast members. It’s on thing to learn in on your own

I have done a few songs in Czech.

Rehearsals start in May for Cunning Little Vixen. You can’t act when you are holding a score.

I’ve spent a lot of time working out the pronunciation of it all. It’s full of consonants, there are some words with no vowels at all, and you’ve got to get your head around how to sing when there are no vowels.

It’s a great challenge and if you sing it in the original language it’s super for getting to know the music better.

Janacek has set the music according to his native tongue. It’s a really nice challenge to get to know a different language.

You do get asked, ‘Do you know what you are singing about?’ It’s very basic because you can’t get away without knowing what it means. It keeps your brain active

I went to Oxford University and read history. I got involved with a lot of the music that goes on at Oxford and felt encouraged to take it further.

She went to the Guildhall School of music in London and spent four years studying music as a postgraduate, “getting to know the repertoire” and was at the National Opera Studio for a year.

When I was still at college I sang in the chorus at Garsington, strangely enough that was also a piece by Janacek, Osud. When Garsington was at the old place. I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, and spent a lot of time in costume running around, not doing an awful lot.

The first time I worked at Covent Garden Kafka Fragments by Kurtag in 2012 - he doesn’t write pot boilers, so it’s not for the faintheated. Working at Covent Garden was a dream come true. Then the first Rossini I did, I was Rosina in the Barber of Seville, that was up at Scottish Opera in 2011. That was a great part. I was looking forward to the big theatres in Glasgow and Edingburgh. And the first time I sang at the Royal Albert Hall in the Proms, in 2005, that was incredible. I now sing fairly regularly at the Proms but each time is special. I remember sitting in a dressing room doing my make up and a lady came in and said, don’t worry, I will do your make up. Don’t forget it’s going live on television.

Oliver Notten? asked me to sing the first time. It was a real honour to get your first big appearance on radio and television. It felt like a real tick in the box.

Cunning Little Vixen

The opera is just beautiful. I didn’t know it so well but I knew it was a great role for the female singer and I was deilghted to be offered it. The musical writing is just so beautiful and romantic.

Janacek wrote it right at the end of his life, so it’s very mature and his writing style is wonferful.

There’s a comic element that he’s wriring an opera for animals but the director can approach this and play to the allegorical side, and I think that’s what the director Danny Slater is going to do.

In 2012 played Max in Where the Wild Things Are, an adaptation of the children’s book by Maurice Sendak at the Barbican. Spent my entire time in a wolf outfit.

Some of the 19th century opears can be a little bit trying. The wonderful things about the composers of the 20th century is the increased appreciation of the importance of drama. The era of park and bark, where a big fat lady parks herself at the front of the stage and barks, is long gone.

Moved to Brightwell cum Sotwell two years ago when son started school. Husband Christopher commutes, who she met at Oxford University, commutes to London. They have three children - Max six, and twin daughters, 3 1/2, Lucy and Madeleine.

It was a great decision to move here. It’s a lovely village and there’s lots going on. everyone seems very friendly. It’s just as we hoped it would be. We lived in a small house in London and we needed some space we were totally living on top of each other.

Rowed for Oxford University - in the university boat race and then took part in Henley regatta in 1998. Then the music took over.

MARGI CLARKE describes her long and varied life in acting as being like a big dipper. As with most of what this driven Scouser says it is graphically true. A conversation with her is peppered with wonderfully colourful and fruity phrases and anecdotes cascade as she recounts her remarkable 36 years as a performer.

It is a journey that has taken her from being in a punk band — Margox and the Zinc — to award-winning films such as Letter to Brezhnev, being an inspiration for the Rita in Educating Rita and spending a decade in Coronation Street.

Now she will be strutting her stuff at the Kenton Theatre on April 17 as the wicked stepmother in Hansel and Gretel. In between talking about that and her remarkable life she lays into the Government for putting up the pensionable age for women and recalls a meeting with Paul Daniels that got off very much on the wrong foot — probably best left in the past.

She is best known for playing hard-up mum Jackie Dobbs. mother of Tyrone, in Coronation Street and playing someone from such a background was nothing new to Margi, who was one of 10 children. Her childhood gave her an attitude to life that persists today.

“First up best dressed was how it was in our house,” she says. “You were taught how to survive being in a family of 10 children. Certainly, my mum wasn’t knitting condoms.”

Her mother was in fact a remarkable woman who became Labour Mayor of Knowsley and delighted in asking the chauffeur of her mayoral limousine to stop off at bus stops and offer lifts to anyone who needed them.

Margi was married at 19, had a child and was working in a factory where, she says: “We stuffed chickens to classical music — can you believe that?” She almost stumbled into show business by becoming a presenter on a Granada late night show What’s On. She was lucky, because at the time Granada was seen as the creative hub of British television.

She recounts how she became part of the inspiration behind a hugely successful play and film about a Liverpudlian girl made good. She was invited to a dinner party — an unusual event for someone like her — where fellow guests included screenwriter Alan Bleasdale, poet Adrian Henri and Willy Russell, the author of Educating Rita. Nonplussed, she asked her brother what she should say she had read to impress people. He suggestested Dostoyevksy’s The Idiot and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. She ploughed her way through The Idiot and expounded on it with such enthusiasm and such natural insight that as she tells the tale you can hear Rita talking as she was portrayed in the play and then the award-winning film starring Julie Walters.

She has not had any traditional theatrical training but became an instant star after landing a part in the hugely successful and acclaimed film Letter to Brezhnev written by her brother Frank Clarke.

“He was the first one of our family to get into showbiz,” she says. “His first part was playing the back end of a cow in panto. I went to see him and was peeved that he was doing it — and realised I had better get a move on.”

She played one of two Liverpool girls who fall in love with visiting Russian sailors. “The film was a brilliant thing to be involved with. It came at a time when Liverpool didn’t even have a tourist board but it did so much for the city all round the world.”

The huge success of Letter to Brezhnev kept Margi’s name in lights but since then her career has been a succession of ups and downs that don’t seem to have left her bitter. It certainly has been different — she was even the presenter of The Good Sex Guide, winning awards along the way.

She talks animatedly about Hansel and Gretel and working with co-star JezO. She just loves performing and playing in front of children.

She says: “I really am the most scary witch. I do slip into my Scouse accent some of the time but mostly it’s a more posh accent. But I just love being on the stage working. My career has had its great highs and its real lows but I am still battling away.”

JezO, who plays Hansel, is making a swift return to the Kenton where he appeared in the successful magician double act show WOW! with his father a few weeks ago.

Based on the classic 19th century Brothers Grimm fairytale, Hansel and Gretel tells the story of a brother and sister whose happy woodland life is interrupted by an unwelcome visitor. The pair find themselves in a beautiful gingerbread house in the forest, where they discover that all is not as it seems and they have to ask their animal friends in the forest for help. The reworking of the classic tale is directed by Lorna Chappell and written by Tom Beard who said: “It is extremely fun and lighthearted. Hansel and Gretel will be a chance for all generations to spend time together at the theatre.”

• Hansel and Gretel is at the Kenton Theatre on Thursday, April 17 at 11am and 2.30pm. For tickets go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk or call (01491) 575698.

PUBLISHED 07/04/14

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