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INTERVIEW: Denise Black on Kindertransport at Nottingham Playhouse

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Denise Black is currently heading the cast in Kindertransport, the play by Diane Samuels that is at Nottingham Playhouse until October 20.

Here she tells us more about the play - and her role in it.

You’re playing a leading role in Kindertransport – tell us what drew you to the character you are playing?

It’s the story, I read the play and just thought “What a great story”. My father-in-law Eric Sanders – once Erich Ignatz Schwartz - is a Viennese Jew who left Vienna after watching Hitler march in – he was too old to be part of Kindertransport but his father managed to sell all their furniture and get tickets and papers for Erich and his Mutti to leave on a train with the kinder. I have a lot to thank those people for – the ones who saved the Jews and welcomed them to England – my children would not be here if it weren’t for them!

Can you tell us a bit about the play, what the Kindertransport effort was and when did it take place?

The Kindertransport was an initiative that came from a groundswell of pressure from the British people which persuaded Chamberlain to green light an initiative to transport 10,000 Jewish children to Britain. British people had become aware of the terrible plight of the Jews brought about by Nazi inhumanity and hatred towards them. The British government put out a request for families to take in the children, who came from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria. It was all done very quickly. Our play tells the story of one such child. It is a fiction, but based on a great deal of research by playwright Diane Samuels. Our production has been blessed by the support of Eva Leadbeater and her husband Allan. Eva is a Nottingham-based kinder who has come to talk to us and share her story and find parallels with her own life. She is a wonderful woman, a humanitarian who tries to help young refugees now and help them as she was once helped.

Why should people come and see the show?

It is a very affecting story with a powerful heartbeat that will have you talking and thinking. Fiona Buffini is a wonderful director who has been directing at the Playhouse for five years and this is her last show here for a while. Don’t miss out!

What made you want to be an actor? Was there a particular moment in your life that led you to this career?

I don’t know what makes a person into an actor. All children sing, dance and act. It is an important way of understanding the world and what makes people tick. But why some of us turn it into a career is a mystery. It’s quite an uncomfortable way of life. Terribly insecure. You live out of a bag. Nobody in my family was an actor. It seemed to pick me.

Coronation Street fans are going wild at the thought of Denise Osbourne returning after hints in a recent episode, can you give anything away?

Rob Mallard, who plays my son, rang me as soon as he got the scripts with the letter from Denise to Daniel, so I did know to expect speculation about what would happen next. But that’s it I’m afraid - I know no more than you!

What’s been your proudest career moment to date?

I’ve had a few really proud moments. My first theatre award in 1982. My first title role at the Newcastle Playhouse in ’84. My first telly in ’90 (in Casualty). Getting Corrie, Queer As Folk. I had a hoot playing M’selle Guillotine in The Scarlet Pimpernel and sword fighting in Robin Hood. I’m incredibly proud of my Yerma at Manchester Royal Exchange, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Liverpool Playhouse. I got to play Bob Hoskins’s wife and work with Michael Caine in a film called Last Orders (I am a HUGE Michael Caine fan). At this moment ,I’m over the moon to have just recently completed filming a feature film for BFI and been nominated for Best Performance in a play for our amazing The Cherry Orchar’ at the Sherman Theatre. I’m a lucky girl.

Have you worked or been to Nottingham before? What do you like about the city?

I think this is my fifth play in Nottingham – I toured Grumpy Old Women and Calendar Girls at the Theatre Royal. I did a wonderful play by Nottingham’s own Billy Ivory at the Lakeside (what a great writer; I first worked with him on his amazing telly series The Sins) and I’ve worked once before at the Playhouse, playing The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband. I like the theatres, the trams, the trees, the castle and the Broadway Cinema. I also like driving out of town into the beautiful surrounding countryside. You’re a lovely warm audience!

You’ve had a couple of controversial and significant roles in both Emmerdale and Coronation Street. What kind of comments do you get from the public?

I think soap has a unique place in people’s hearts. Your day may turn sour, but your favourite soap is there to save you. Characters grow old with you. Continuous drama is a massive team effort, and I am extraordinarily proud to have worked on both Corrie and Emmerdale. People said really scary stuff when I first started like “you’ll never be able to catch the train again” and warned me I’d be confused with my character and treated accordingly in public. That’s not been my experience. I’ve been treated with love and kindness and all I can say is – thank you! I’ve loved every moment.

You’ve been performing all of your life, but do you ever get nervous before heading on stage?

I have had fear so bad that my legs wouldn’t hold me up. I’ve had stage fright and that’s even worse – you think you are going to faint. Luckily these were isolated incidences and by and large I just get excited and my heart bangs but I don’t pass out.

How did you get your ‘big break’?

My first big break was down to playwright Pam Gems. I was no-one and nowhere and she championed me. She told me I was a star. She told me it was my duty to dedicate myself to my work. She hauled me up and kept me on course. She befriended me and mentored me. I loved her with all my heart and I miss her every day.

What’s next for you?

The million-dollar question! With luck, a truly great run with this wonderful cast in Kindertransport at the Playhouse. You be the judge!

For more information about Nottingham Playhouse visit www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Catherine Ashmore