Kathy Burke is one of Britain’s best loved actresses for parts including the comedy roles of Waynetta Slob and Linda in Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. She won Best Actress at Cannes in 1997 for Nil By Mouth but gave up acting to direct in 2001. Her latest play, Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow, returns to London’s Tricycle Theatre after a sell-out national tour.
The Quare Fellow has had great reviews. Does that bolster your confidence as a director?
Not really – but it does get people in to see the play. Good reviews obviously help a lot more than bad reviews. We’ve done this play before and we know that it works and that people appreciate seeing so many actors on stage. It has got a huge ensemble cast and there’s nothing flashy about it – it’s a very low budget production. We’re simply telling the story in the way Behan would hopefully want it told.
Your West End directorial debut Betty didn’t get such nice reviews. Did that put you off directing?
No, it didn’t put me off at all. Why are we talking about the negative when we should be talking about the positive? We had a wonderful time but it was unfortunate we were in quite a large West End theatre and, for a one-woman show, that was a pretty ambitious decision on the part of the producers. If it was in a smaller venue the reviews wouldn’t have mattered that much but unfortunately it had to close a lot earlier than we hoped.
Didn’t you plan originally to direct only for two years?
I thought I’d get a buzz back for acting and want to go back but it hasn’t happened at all. I get a great deal of job satisfaction from directing. I stopped acting because I was starting not to love it and I thought that would come across to the audience. I’ve been doing it since I was 17 and it doesn’t matter what job you’re in, you’re going to get a bit sick of it after 20 years. I was just very lucky that I had directing to fall back on.
How do you pick the plays you want to direct?
Artistic directors just approach me really. It’s working for me in a similar way to how acting happened – you get sent stuff and if I feel that I’m able to do it then I’ll go ahead and do it. I don’t have a list of plays that I would like to do, it doesn’t work like that.
Do you think your acting career has made you a better director?
It doesn’t make me a better director but it makes me understand actors – I understand their process and have a great deal of empathy with actors from having been one. There’s a bit of a short cut in communication I can make with them there but it doesn’t make me a better director than anybody else.
So what is it that you enjoy most about directing?
It’s just getting the whole thing together – it’s all down to your choice and your taste. You decide who designs it, who the lighting person is, what music to use then you choose your cast. That’s really important to me – I like to get a cast together of people who don’t have massive egos, who will work together as a team to tell the same story.
Presumably you’ve worked with directors who you haven’t thought were much cop – how do you deal with that as an actor?
Yes, that’s happened quite a few times over 20 odd years. When I was younger I was a bit cheeky and didn’t keep it to myself if I thought someone was pretty useless. You learn the art of diplomacy as you get older and keep your mouth shut, get the job done and never go near the director again.
When you haven’t got on with a director is there a general reason why?
When I haven’t got on with a director it’s been because I felt they haven’t respected other human beings. I try and make things as respectful as possible. Everyone is an individual and you have to take the rough with the smooth with people. There have been directors in the past I’ve worked with who haven’t had great people management skills and I think that’s a big part of the job.
You turned down Harry Potter – can you think of anything that will tempt you back into acting?
Not really. I just don’t feel like putting myself back in the arena. Who knows, in a few years’ time I might have to start again. You can go in and out of fashion – I was in fashion for a while, but there are new people coming up all the time. I certainly don’t take it for granted that I can step back into acting whenever I wish. I just haven’t got the inkling to do it right now.
Weren’t you so bored in one of your last acting jobs that you tried to get sacked from the film?
I got close but unfortunately I didn’t get sacked. I just didn’t turn up for rehearsals and was giving everyone daggers with my grumpy face but I think they had too much film in the can to get rid of me. Lots of people find film sets very exciting – and I used to – but as I’ve got older I find them really dull. I just spent my time sitting in caravans giving myself cancer. As a director, not a lot of smoking goes on as it’s banned in rehearsal rooms.
Any plans to give up?
Everyday I plan to give up but it hasn’t happened yet.
You were in a Morrissey video – have you met any other heroes through work?
I was in Ouija Board, Ouija Board, one of Morrissey’s flops. He’s a very very shy man. He had me chasing him through a forest. When you meet people you admire there’s always a chance it’ll be a disappointment, so I try to avoid it now, really. I won’t do Parkinson because I’m mad about him. I’d pin him to the floor and snog the face off him – I don’t care how old he is – he’s sex on legs and we don’t want to see that, not on the telly.
Do you think you’ll ever play Waynetta Slob or Linda from Gimme, Gimme Gimme again?
Never. They’re both dead. Waynetta exploded after eating too much pizza and Linda exploded after eating – probably her own crap. I’m a bit old for those characters now.
By Andrew Williams. Original article