It took a session with her old Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em co-star Michael Crawford to unlock for Michele Dotrice the character she plays in The Ladykillers.
Michele is adding years to her age to become Mrs Wilberforce, the sweet innocent little old lady whose home is invaded by a gang of criminal misfits posing as musicians.
Crawford – disaster-prone Frank to Michele’s Betty in the 70s sitcom – showed Michele the way.
“It is the first time I have played anyone in that age group; you would think that Mrs Wilberforce is in her 70s or 80s, so it is certainly new territory for me,” Michele said.
“But the other day my friend Michael Crawford came around to the flat and said ‘How are you going to play Mrs Wilberforce?’ I said I didn’t know, and he just started to play her, no script, just playing her how she should be, off the top of his head. I was in hysterics. I had tears rolling down my face the way he played this little old innocent lady with a beaming smile, apparently totally vague, but you know that she is as sharp as a pencil underneath. It was so hysterical watching him.
“I said to him ‘Michael, will you do me a favour? I think it will be funnier if you play her for me!’”
The tour kicks off in Michele’s old stomping ground Plymouth before heading for Southampton’s Mayflower from October 15-20
“I live down in Cornwall so it will be nice to be back at Plymouth. But I am really looking forward to the Mayflower. The last time I was there was with my beloved (late husband) Edward (Woodward) when we did The Cemetery Club. It will be wonderful going back, and this is a wonderful piece to do.
“This is a very updated version, but not in the sense that it isn’t set in the 50s anymore. It is still set then, but it is a brilliant lively script, and I think (adapter) Graham Linehan has really captured all the characters – the whole motley crew from the film.”
Inevitably you see the word Ladykillers, and you think of the movie: “I found it very funny. Edward and I used to watch it. He loved it, just loved it, and I did revisit it recently. I still think it is a charming piece and very amusing.”
“I think Mrs Wilberforce is quite a sharp character, but she is permanently down at the police station reporting nefarious goings-on and they tell her very nicely to go home and they ignore her.”
The irony, of course, is that this time there really is something going on.
“Physically it is going to be a challenge. She does a lot of going up and down the stairs with trays of tea, and I have just had a knee replacement. I had the full works, and it wasn’t terribly pleasant. I suppose it was because of many many years on stage doing fights and physical things. And so the arthritis came on. I am hoping that the other one will keep me going!”
Daughter of actor Roy, Michele has been acting since the age of six weeks when she was carried on stage: “And my father is still working now. He is 89. He is just astonishing. He phoned me just now and said ‘I have got two tickets for tonight. Are you coming?’ I said ‘Tonight?’ He said ‘Tonight!’ I said ‘What for?’ He said ‘Eddie Izzard’ I said ‘What time does it start?’ He said 11.30!’ I said ‘Are you serious!’”
He was – and so typical of the man: “He is the best tonic!”