David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
"Do you have children?" "Only when there are no men around." Thus spake one of the silver screen's sauceboxes, Amanda Donahoe, icily putting down Hugh Grant in Ken Russell's The Lair of the Great White Worm. Yet it was women rather than men who made her really famous, thanks to the storyliners on LA Law who turned her character, CJ, into a (gasp) bisexual. Following their on-screen snog, the actress playing Abby quit the series in disgust. And who says the entertainment industry isn't prejudiced?

On-screen lesbianism didn't appear to phase Donahoe (right), whose nerve must have been hardened when she landed the leading role in Castaway back in 1986. It must have been a dream come true for a nice girl from the Central School of Speech and Drama. Making your screen debut playing the leading role in a Nicolas Roeg picture... only to discover that you have to spend large chunks of the film wearing nothing but a tan. And that your co-star is Oliver Reed, who got to extend his range playing a loud- mouthed, sexist boor.

When Donahoe first left Central she went to Manchester's Royal Exchange, which was then on something of a critical high, up there with the Glasgow Citizens as the condition to which regional theatre aspired. The directors Nicholas Hytner, Phyllida Lloyd and James Macdonald all consolidated their now considerable reputations there. Its recent history has been a little more chequered, so perhaps it's a good omen that Donahoe is returning to take the title role in Braham Murray's new production of Miss Julie. She recently made her Broadway debut in his production of Uncle Vanya. It's quite a leap from the cool restraint of Yelena to the unbridled passion of Miss Julie, but then you could argue that Strindberg's combustible mix of sex, class and power is not too far from an episode of LA Law, circa 1888.

'Miss Julie' opens at the Royal Exchange, Manchester (0161-833 9833) on Thur. The production is due to transfer to the West End

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