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The Independent Culture
"Being 39 was horrible." The roles dry up when an actress hits 40, but a few years on, life has improved immeasurably for Frances de la Tour (right). Maggie Smith was hugely impressive in Three Tall Women, but de la Tour took the less showy role and nearly walked away with the show. That came hot on the heels of her sensational performance in Les Parents Terribles. A devastating mix of hauteur and passion, she positively dripped disdain and even won applause for her exquisitely timed exit in Act Two. The entire performance amounted to a masterclass in comic timing and led you to wonder why she hadn't done everything that Wilde and Coward had ever written.

Yet she enjoys drama more. Her performance as the mysterious, repressed friend of Isadora Duncan, in Martin Sherman's When She Danced, won her admiring notices and an Olivier award. She found the containment of the character strangely liberating and created the sense that this woman had endless reserves of buttoned-down passion.

Her latest role is Babette in The Fire Raisers, by the Swiss playwright Max Frisch. Thanks to his influential discussions with Brecht, people have been misled into supposing the play must be didactic and dull. "Certainly not," says de la Tour, who points out how brilliantly funny it is. "I can't bear political agitprop. This is a much richer play about how ordinary people allowed fascism to happen." Post-VE day, it couldn't be more timely.

'The Fire Raisers', Riverside Studios,W6 (0181-741 2255)