Preview: If I Were You, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

A marriage made in actor heaven
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The Independent Culture

What is it like to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn? For Liza Goddard, who is being directed by the playwright in If I Were You, "it is true acting - the reason I chose this job in the first place". The actress, who previously appeared in Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings, in 2004, says it fulfils a long-held ambition. "I'd wanted to work with Ayckbourn my whole career. Now at last I have the honour of being in one of his new plays."

If I Were You is the 70th play by Ayckbourn, who was knighted for his services to theatre in 1997, and marked his return to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he is artistic director, after he suffered a stroke in February 2006. Now Ayckbourn's production is embarking on a national tour.

The play is a comic examination of the differences between men and women. Goddard plays Jill, whose marriage to Mal (John Branwell) rests on their mutual desire to avoid confrontation at all costs - until they swap roles in the relationship.

Goddard, who has worked extensively in television, says she has had to "jump through hoops" for the role. "It is completely outside anything I have done before. For a start, she has a Scarborough accent, she transforms into a man and I had to dye my hair dark for the part.

"Ayckbourn is very gentle with his actors and it seems to me that his greatest love is being in a rehearsal room. He doesn't say that much, but what he does say is very insightful because he knows what the characters are feeling.

"He also expects you to know your lines perfectly. He will say: 'I think you'll find there is a comma there.' That is a bit scary. But he allows you to be extraordinarily creative - always in order to serve the play. It's funny you don't really think about the audience; you find yourself performing for him."

UK tour from 17 January to 10 March ( www.sjt.uk.com)

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