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INTERVIEW: Honeysuckle Weeks is more than over the moon at her Chichester return

Foyle's War star Honeysuckle Weeks isn't just over the moon to be playing Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at Chichester Festival Theatre this summer.

"I'm over Mars!"

The point is that it is a huge chance for Honeysuckle – a former member of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre – to spread her wings.

As she says, many people probably think 'Honeysuckle Weeks? Plummy accent etc etc,' – and maybe that's what she will end up with in Bernard Shaw's classic tale.

But her starting point on the CFT stage will be pure cockney (July 9 to August 27)

"Obviously you know where you were brought up, where you went to school and so on, but I want to show I am not just country England. I want to show my range. I like doing things that are a challenge.

"And cockney doesn't come natural," she says in an instantly-convincing cockney accent. "You grow as an actor by challenging yourself."

Pygmalion – which so famously spawned the musical My Fair Lady – is the story of egocentric Professor of Phonetics Henry Higgins who makes a bet with his friend, Colonel Pickering, that he can transform the manners and speech of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and pass her off as a lady in society.

"I just had to beg, steal and borrow to get the part," Honeysuckle says.

"I just really, really wanted it. I put in absolutely 200 per cent to get it!

"The other great thing is to be working with Rupert Everett (who will play Higgins). He is such a fantastic actor. I had always admired his work."

What makes him such a phenomenal actor is his intellect, Honeysuckle says: "I should think he is very clever!"

And as if all that wasn't attraction enough, the icing on the cake for Honeysuckle is the fact Chichester is still very much home turf.

She grew up just near Petworth, went to school at Great Ballard and started her acting career with Chichester Festival Youth Theatre in 1988.

"I got everything from the Youth Theatre. It was a great learning experience. You learn how to conduct yourself backstage and how to go out there in to an auditorium full of faces.

"You really are doing it for real in front of massive audiences. You learn how to be on stage, how to be free, how to be uninhibited, how to use your energy and your enthusiasm."

Honeysuckle lives in London these days: "But I am longing to come back to my mum's house.

"I will spend the summer there and be a child of the woods again! I am really looking forward to it."

For more details about Pygmalion or to book tickets visit www.cft.org.uk

Honey makes a name for herself

Currently Honeysuckle is on the road in the Agatha Christie thriller Witness For The Prosecution, directed by Barnham's Joe Harmston.

The tour brings the company to Brighton's Theatre Royal from Sunday, April 25 to May 1 (tickets on 0844 871 7627) – Joe's latest successes with the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, following hits with

The Hollow, The Unexpected Guest, And Then There Were None and Spider's Web.

After huge stage success the play was filmed by Billy Wilder in 1957, starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton.

Bringing it back to the stage, Joe has assembled a cast including Honeysuckle, Denis Lill (The Royal), Robert Duncan (Drop The Dead Donkey) and 60s teen idol Mark Wynter.

"It's a wonderful story," Honeysuckle says. "Agatha Christie thought it her best, and that's saying something when you think of her plethora of plays. I think she writes extremely interesting characters for women, very strong roles.There is no window dressing there."

Emily French, an elderly woman who recently left her considerable estate to the charming young Leonard, is found dead. Murdered. Though he protests his innocence, Leonard quickly becomes the prime suspect.

His plea hinges on his wife's testimony, until the sudden appearance of a mysterious woman, bearing an unexpected clue.

Will the truth be revealed in time or will Leonard be declared guilty

at the hands of the witness for the prosecution?

"I am playing Romain, the wife of a man who faces the death penalty if he is found guilty. When I read the script, I was convinced I knew who had done it. But I was wrong. Utterly wrong!"

But all her other instincts were right. As she say, she's very used to period work, particularly roughly that kind of period.

"I can certainly do lashings of strawberry jam and all that!"

To date, Honeysuckle's biggest success has been the long-running TV series Foyle's War, the detective drama created by screenwriter and author Anthony Horowitz.

The programme is set during, and just after, the second world war in Hastings where Det Chief Supt Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) attempts to catch criminals taking advantage of the confusion the war has created. He is assisted by his driver Samantha 'Sam' Stewart (Honeysuckle) and Det Sgt Paul Milner (Anthony Howell).

The era itself is very much the reason for the series' success, Honeysuckle says: "People love it because of the era. We all have rosy-tinted ideas about England generally when it used to win things like wars and cricket instead of being beaten all the time! But also the writing is very good. Anthony Horowitz writes great stories."

As for her character Sam: "She is a joy to play. There is not a bad bone in there. She is a very rare flower in that there are not many people who are consistently good. Actually, there is a lot of me in there. I am quite an enthusiastic person and positive, but I'm not as tidy as she is."

Honeysuckle insists her own natural look is rather more akin to Worzel Gummidge: "I am lucky to have hours of make-up and hair to make me look good!"

Part of the pleasure has been the fact she has had so long to develop the character in the show – though there are dangers there as well.

Hence her keenness to play Eliza in Chichester this summer.

"You get taken for granted for doing that kind of thing. We shot the pilot in 2001 so it is a long time, so that's nine years of plumbing the depths of just one character."

 
 
 

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