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Life with a demented budgie
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The Independent Culture

Families don't come much more dysfunctional than the heroes of Shameless. But Carmel Morgan, having written for the Channel 4 series, offers up stiff competition for the Gallaghers in her first West End play.

Dawn French is to play the self-sacrificing daughter Bernice Clulow, who puts her own life on hold to look after her disabled, arthritic mother (June Watson). The Eighties pop star Alison Moyet plays French's mostly absent sister. Directed by Kathy Burke, who recently staged The God of Hell at the Donmar Warehouse, the play has original music by Moyet and Pete Glenister.

"The family have been living together in this bungalow for 25 years with the mother's illness," French says. "The situation is not funny, but the way they relate to each other is funny. The irony is that the cheerful, wheelchair-bound mother, babbling away like a demented budgie in the corner, is far more outward-looking than either of the two daughters."

French rose to stardom with The Comic Strip in 1980, partnered by Jennifer Saunders, whom she met at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. The duo's TV sketch show, French and Saunders, began in 1987.

French starred in Murder Most Horrid in 1991, and after The Vicar of Dibley, she played a lesbian living in Cornwall in the BBC1 comedy Wild West. She was the "fat lady in the painting" in the film of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and the voice of Mrs Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She is married to the comedian Lenny Henry, and is always recognised in public: "I have to worry if I don't get recognised!"

Of her roles, French is most attached to Rev Geraldine Granger, the liberal, fun-loving vicar of Dibley. "That is because it is me. When Richard Curtis wrote the part, he wanted me to root the character in myself - although, of course, I am not as goody-two-shoes as she is."

Booking from 29 March (0870 890 1107)

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