Saturday 24th September

Advertise | Login  RSS  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

Anna Mann: “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say I brought down Thatcher. But I don’t know what hyperbolic means.”

| Comedy | 25/09/2017

Colin Hoult Anna Mann 2017 v2

This week, character comedian Colin Hoult brings his superb creation Anna Mann to Soho Theatre with critically acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe show, How We Stop The Fascists.  Ahead of six hotly anticipated performances, Ian Cater spoke to Anna about the show and what she views to be her dazzling career as ‘supreme siren of the stage and screen’.

Anna Mann is a professional, immediately turning on the charm when I call at what turns out to be an inopportune moment.  “You just caught me coming out the toilet, darling.  Don’t worry – I’ve completely wiped and tossed.  I’ve got it down to a fine art.  You’ve got to be ready to go at any time in showbiz, and if necessary suck it in and get out.”

Once the apologies and toilet tissue have been dispensed with, Mann’s delighted to reflect on the acting career and colourful personal life that brought her to this point: as an unfairly underrated treasure, ready to help the world with her latest show.

“Well, as you know, I’ve done everything really,” she gushes.  “Big screen, small screen, very small screen – I do a lot of apps.  I don’t know what they are, but they keep paying the bills when my ex-husbands can’t.  I started out in theatre 25 to 45 years ago – I’ve reset my age so often in interviews and resumes that we’re just not sure anymore.  But acting wasn’t so much a choice as a need.  I’ve often said that if I stopped breathing and acting at the same time, I genuinely don’t know which would kill me first.”

Treading the boards and getting naked

“The impetus to act came from my first – no, second – husband, John Smells.  ‘Smellsy’ was a wonderful man and director, although much older than me.  He was very encouraging.  He encouraged me to do a lot – all kinds of very cheeky stuff actually,” she giggles, lost in reverie.

“Sorry, what was I saying?  Oh, acting.  Smellsy put me in this wonderful play called Dinner For Two.  Initially, I thought he’d got me a job as a waitress and it took a few shows to realise that people were occasionally applauding.  When I realised, I was hooked.  Straight after, Smellsy encouraged me to train alongside some of the big names like Suchet … all of the Suchets – I was almost a Suchet twice.  I’d like to say that was at RADA, but it was actually a school called The Tittery Wappet in Chiswick.  But it was very good.”

COLINHOULTANNAMANNINHOWWESTOPTHEFASCISTS_BerksNest_pressimage1Armed with the tools of the trade, Mann worked her way up from small roles in The Rogue Baker and A Bowl For My Bottom, to larger parts such as “the elephant’s fanny” in the original stage production of The Lion King.  Soon, Hollywood came knocking at her door.

“I was cast in a famous film your readers have probably heard of called Dead Island.  Well, before they changed it to Island of the Dead, then to Everyone On This Island Is Dead.  Then I think it became I’m Dead, Are You?  Let’s Get Off The Island, before they finally settled on Zulu.  I played a fairly small role, but it led onto better things.”

One of those “better things” was a part in television drama Professor Whatnow, a Dr Who ripoff which Mann still regrets as it spawned an army of sci-fi nerds who continue to pursue her like moths to a flame.  Not long after that, she signed up to international smash Chairman Mao: The Musical.  “I could do a very good faux Chinese accent, which nowadays you’re not allowed to, but back then it was all the rage.”

Although criticised on that occasion for cultural appropriation, Mann’s versatility has always been a calling card.  “I can turn my hand to things, because I always bring a lot of enthusiasm.”  I ask what she perceives to be her other strengths.  “I’m incredibly loud and not afraid to get naked – in fact, I often demand it.  I’m easy to work with … unless you cross me, in which case I’ll destroy you.  And I learn at least half my lines, which is more than any of the Suchets.”

Cooking truth and curing depression

Although spoilt for choice, Mann says her strongest performance was in the highly political No More War, Please.  “It was the last play Smellsy wrote.  It literally killed him.  He wanted change but in a very polite way, so we did songs like I Am What I Am (If That’s Okay With You) and End Apartheid If At All Possible.  It was a wonderful protest piece.”

Mann also engaged in other political works, including To Catch A Tory where a real Conservative MP was released into the arena.  “Those forays were the tip of the iceberg really.  I’ve always been a political animal.  I think it goes hand in hand with being in the arts.  Only actors understand truth.  We’re ‘Truth Chefs’.  But instead of plating up a lobster on a pig that someone’s ordered in a restaurant, we cook truth and serve it in play.  Does that make sense?”

I nod, before hurrying onto Mann’s 2016 A Sketch Show For Depressives, which poked fun at group therapy and sent up many misconceptions about mental illness.  “It was nice to do comedy and I’m glad people enjoyed it.  But there was a serious aim that I think we achieved.  I was chatting to my best friend, Sue Clinch – lovely woman, what she’s been through I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  Anyway, she heard from a doctor that there’s no depression any more.  I don’t know if it’s from my show, but the proof’s in the pudding I suppose.  I’ve certainly been very happy since then.”

After successfully waging war against mental illness, Mann’s chosen an equally fearful foe this time around in How We Stop The Fascists (see the trailer here).  “Goodness me, they’re just awful people, aren’t they?  The fascists, the Alt-Right?  I’ve campaigned most of my life against right-wingers.  I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say I brought down the Thatcher government.  But then I don’t know what hyperbolic means.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 09.49.00How did she approach the task?  “I wanted to understand what these people think, but I couldn’t imagine.  Sue Clinch suggested verbatim theatre, where you record real people’s stories and perform them.  I thought it was a great idea, as it involves less brain power and I’ve not met real people since they stopped delivering milk in the 90s.  I thought I’d travel all over, but because of train fares I ended up mainly going to the Midlands.  But let’s be fair, that’s where the bulk of it goes on.

“In the show I take the stories and perform them to people who are already on my side.  I think that’s how you change the world.”

And what, I ask Mann, is her solution to halting the Right’s recent resurgence?  “They’re just angry children feeding on hatred.  If you take away the hatred, you take away their weapons.  Without giving too much away, the best way of doing that is … what’s the opposite of hatred?  That’s right: yoga.  Mandatory yoga.”

Awful Donald Trump and bloody Helen Mirren

The thought of Donald Trump attempting the downward dog nearly disturbs my last meal, so I ask if Mann has any back-up to spiritual healing.  “If yoga doesn’t work, I guess one day Melania’s going to just activate and end him when her wires come loose.  Trump’s such an awful man, so there’ll be little sympathy.

“The situation reminds me of when I was married to a chap called Dave Kosh.  Everyone warned me.  They said he’s a bad boy, a total rotter.  We’d fight all the time, then make love.  Fight, make love and so on.  Then we’d do a puzzle, but it was soon back to fighting and making love.  And it only stopped when Dave fell out of the window and died.  That was when we were doing a puzzle.  So that might be the only way to save us.  More puzzles.”

While on the subject of reality TV’s most famous graduate, I ask Mann about her own experience earlier this year on Who’s That Fat Twat?  “Oh, dear.  The concept was that celebrities were given food until one of them burst.  I couldn’t stay to the end – there were too many vegan sausages even for me.  It ended very badly.  In a nutshell, I had to have my stomach pumped.  Well, in a hospital actually.  And they’re not even going to air the series.

“But the worst thing was the other contestants weren’t what I’d call real celebrities.  They were just people – what we used to refer to as ‘normals’ or ‘willy wobblers’.  I said to them: ‘Have you ever even performed Bill Shakes?’  And they hadn’t.  It’s incredible.  I mean, I once pooed onstage and it feels like nobody even remembers that any more.

“I was furious with my agent for talking me into that reality show, but he keeps repeating what Helen Mirren said about there not being many roles for the older women.  That’s because bloody Helen Mirren keeps taking them.”

Colin Hoult is performing as Anna Mann in ‘How We Stop The Fascists’ until 30th September at Soho Theatre (tickets here).  For more information on Colin’s various projects, follow him on Twitter @colinhoult or see more of his work at his official YouTube page.

Seen this? What did you think? Add your comments below...

You must be logged in to post a comment.