If I had my way, Linda Bassett would be a household name. Nine million viewers watched her in the BBC series No Bananas, but is she a star? Alas, no. Back in theatre, Philip Howard, artistic director of the Traverse, is unequivocal in his praise. "No one has ever investigated why she remains the actress with whom most British theatre-makers are obsessed, yet a relative unknown to the public."
Perhaps it's her own fault. She submerges herself so deeply into character that you come away remembering the play, not the performer. Look at all the roles she has created. She was profoundly moving in the original production of Caryl Churchill's Fen, was cast against type as the power-hungry City arbitrageur Mary-Lou Baines in Churchill's smash-hit, Serious Money, and was the rampaging Liz Morden in Timberlake Wertenbaker's powerful Our Country's Good.
There's also a blazing integrity to her work which marks her out as something special. Her heartbreaking performance as a mother torn apart by the tabloids in the Mike Leigh-esque TV play, Newshounds, drew directly on her early devising work with the pioneering theatre-in-education team at Coventry's Belgrade theatre. It was there that she honed her skills at turning ideas into characters, a talent she has taken with her into her more "mainstream" work.
More than a year ago, she took part in a workshop developing Ayub Khan Din's first play, East is East, and fell in love with it. Although it's set within a mixed race family in Salford, anyone expecting a careful, worthy "issue play" will be disappointed. "He's not scared of who watches it," observes Bassett. That much is clear from the language of this surprisingly genial play. The tiny stage is crammed with the comings and goings of two parents, six children plus "Auntie" Annie in the (onstage) chip shop. "Because we're all a family, we all insult each other gloriously all the time," laughs Bassett, "the language is intimate but pretty robust. Anyway, it's set in 1970. You couldn't be politically correct then."
A transfer is in the air, but if you want to catch new talent or see another of Bassett's powerfully unselfish performances, see it now.
EYE ON THE NEW
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