Liz White has gone from Life On Mars to Russian communism

by Bridget Galton LIZ White s current screen role involves sporting a leather waistcoat, wedges and a flyaway hairdo. The Yorkshire-born actress is one of just two female coppers in the 70s-set police drama Life On

Liz White has gone from Life On Mars to Russian communism

LIZ White's current screen role involves sporting a leather waistcoat,

wedges and a flyaway hairdo.

The Yorkshire-born actress is one of just two female coppers in the 70s-set police drama Life On Mars.


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As such, her character Annie Cartwright has to endure sexist insults from the motley assortment of chauvinist pigs in a Manchester police station as she tries to rise through the ranks.

The theatre role she is rehearsing for - the Almeida's latest production Dying For It - also takes her into the realm of put-upon women.

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Masha is a hard-working Russian wife to a disillusioned, unemployed husband in Moira Buffini's loose adaptation of Erdman's 1920s drama The Suicide.

For White, it is a welcome return to the stage after two years filming two seasons of Life On Mars. The show featuring top acting talents Philip Glenister and John Simm is about a modern-day copper propelled more than 30 years back in time following a car accident.

"There was an awful lot of Elnett hairspray," laughs White. "Cans of the stuff - but it was a really good atmosphere on set. It could be tiring and monotonous sometimes. But I got to do some extraordinary things that I have always dreamed about - like when someone's about to commit suicide and the police talk them down. That's a pretty stock scene from many films but it was a bit of a thrill to be on top of a roof and I was the actor playing it.

"As a woman in a man's world in the 70s, it works to Annie's advantage to do herself down, keep her mouth shut and not show how smart she is as she quietly gets on with it. She does have to put up with comments. But it's interesting that it's come full circle nowadays with women often publicly talking about men in quite crude, coarse terms."

Her character in Dying For It is "unthanked, unappreciated and a bit of a martyr, "as she slaves all hours to run the home and earn a crust.

"She's the breadwinner who runs the household, looks after the home and is agony aunt to her husband's moaning and whinging," says White, whose TV and film work includes The Street, Vincent, Teachers and Vera Drake.

Nikolai Erdman's satirical comedy was banned by Stalin before a single performance because it directly criticised the way communism robbed individuals of creativity and aspiration.

When Masha's husband Semyon decides to take his own life, he is inundated with visitors begging him to die for their cause. On the night he is to shoot himself, they hold a party at which events spiral to a glorious climax.

"It's about how the communist regime wasn't working for the people," says White.

"Man couldn't find his place within that rat race, a lot of Russians felt they were on that treadmill and, without that sense of purpose, everything else diminishes. Semyon is an imaginative eloquent young man, if only he could find some way to be an artist. He needs something to happen so he creates it. But people latch onto it and even his own death gets taken away from him."

White says there are elements of slapstick, but the play works best when it is based in a kind of speeded up reality.

"Moira has done a wonderful job making it more recognisable, more universal. It's really intense, I have found it such a challenge. It keeps me awake at night and what could be better than to have a job that keeps you on your toes?"

Dying For It runs at the Almeida in Islington until April 28.

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