Amy is sitting pretty again with a new play in the pipeline

PUBLISHED: 10:42 20 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:10 07 September 2010

Amy Rosenthal is back after a six-year break from writing

Amy Rosenthal is back after a six-year break from writing

Ahead of her new play being staged at Hampstead, playwright Amy Rosenthal chats to Katie Davies about overcoming writer s block and life as a celebrity offspring THERE S no mistaking Amy Rosenthal s origins. The big brown eyes, huge smile and delicate

Ahead of her new play being staged at Hampstead, playwright Amy Rosenthal chats to Katie Davies about overcoming writer's block and life as a celebrity offspring

THERE'S no mistaking Amy Rosenthal's origins. The big brown eyes, huge smile and delicate nose, coupled with the constantly self-deprecating giggle and wave of the hand, are almost directly cloned from her mother Maureen Lipman.

But it's the voice that clinches the deal. The high-pitched Hull twang is indistinguishable. In fact, if you closed your eyes and she started on Lipman's infamous BT script, you would assume she was the woman herself.

Pointing this out should give rise to the typical, "I want to be my own person" strop, but Amy, the daughter of Ms Lipman and her late husband and dramatist Jack Rosenthal, is rather more rounded and down to earth than most celebrity offspring.

"It doesn't get on my nerves when people say we're alike - I'm quite flattered," she shrugs. "Me and my mum are quite alike in character, but I am like my dad as well - I'm a real mixture. Someone said recently that my brother and I were the two most legitimate children ever imaginable."

At 34, the playwright is a little old for rebellion. However, it is evidently her gentle nature, rather than her age, which stops the high dramatics.

For example, she apologises for being five minutes late for our meeting at the Hampstead Theatre, where her new play, On the Rocks, is about to open. She explains it's because it's the birthday of two members of the cast and she has spent the night making them cards and then had to hand them out.

"They said it's the first time the writer's interrupted rehearsals so far," she laughs. "I don't know what my obsession is with other people's birthdays - it's mine on Saturday - but I just get so excited for everyone else."

The Lipman accent is surprising because of her attachment to London. She calls herself a Londoner and lives with her cat in Belsize Park. She would normally talk about her pet at length, she explains, but her brother has recently told her off for sounding like the "cat woman stereotype".

Work is often done at the "lovely" British Library but she's unsure if it's constructive being "full of writers chatting because they're terrified of going back to their desks".

It must have worked, however, as her latest comedy is about to be performed. It is based partly on true events, set in the Cornwall cottage where DH Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, moved in 1916. The play is about the couple and their friends Katherine Mansfield and her husband John Middleton Murry - who they persuaded to move with them - and the resulting tensions.

It is a nervous time for Ms Rosenthal. She arrived on the scene with huge acclaim in 1999 but then writer's block intervened and stopped her working six years ago.

It is easy to surmise that the pause was grief-related. In the same year, her beloved father was diagnosed with myeloma, which killed him in 2004.

However, she says it was rather a crisis of confidence which was the death knell for her typewriter.

"I think part of it was simply writing my first play at 25," she says of Sitting Pretty, which debuted at the Chelsea Theatre in 1999.

"I put everything I knew into one piece and then didn't have anything left. I spent a lot of time staring at the blank page, crying. It is horrible because you just turn in on yourself - there's no-one else to blame."

Her parents were supportive while she turned her back on the family trade and moved into a string of "normal" jobs, such as primary school teaching.

However, there's no doubt her father would be - and her mother is - proud to see her return to the theatre, where she feels at home.

"My dad was quite bemused because he never suffered from writer's block, but then he never put the least bit of pressure on me," she smiles. "He really was the nicest man on earth but he could see how sad I was about it. Like any father he wanted to help.

"I always wrote, and grew up drawing on the back of old scripts. I wanted to act for a while but I was really, truly, terrible at it. It was like the instrument wasn't tuned, whereas with writing I can hear it. As soon as I had a little taste of it again, I knew I wanted to come back."

It was the close relationship with her father which has made Rosenthal stage a charity performance of the play. On July 3, all proceeds will go to Myeloma UK, a cause the family has been close to ever since her father's death.

"I wanted to do something for them," she explains. "About three years ago, my mum was in a show in Birmingham and they did a gala night for Myeloma UK.

"With the writer's block I couldn't see how I would be able to help, so wanting to do something was actually a bit of a spur to get writing again."

She has certainly hit the ground running. The play, which features Tracy-Ann Oberman, is already creating positive whispers in the theatre world.

But Rosenthal is keen not to allow her own expectations to grow to the extent that they stifle her once again.

"I don't want to get over-excited at this stage," she says. "The time off taught me to enjoy it and not get so angsty.

"I'm taking each play as it comes, letting ideas simmer rather than panicking that they are not going to rise. If they laugh then I know we're OK - I'll be sitting in the wings holding up a sign."

The play runs from June 26 until July 26 at Hampstead Theatre on Eton Avenue. The special Myeloma UK night includes pre-show refreshments and an after-show discussion. For ticket information call the box office on 020-7722 9301.


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