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National treasure Tamsin Greig has conquered TV – ‘Black Books’, ‘Episodes’ – won an Olivier for her stage work and ruled the airwaves in ‘The Archers’. But she’s never been in a musical. Now that’s about to change with her portrayal of depressed actress Pepa in the London premiere of the musical version of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 oddball film comedy ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’.
Were you nervous about taking on a musical for the first time?
‘Well, the clue to that is in the fact that I said “no” for about a year. And there’s still a tiny part of me that’s still going “No!” I listened to the Broadway musical on CD and I said, “Well, I can’t do that”. But I read the script and went, “Oh shit”, because Jeffrey Lane’s book is so clever. I thought: Oh I can do that, because I know how to play those rhythms.’
Were you a fan of Pedro Almodóvar’s movies before you signed up?
‘Oh yes. When I re-watched “Women on the Verge” what intrigued me most was that I couldn’t quite work out what it was. It has a kind of psychedelic, hyper-realism which works brilliantly for comedy, but there are moments that are incredibly moving.’
Does the musical channel the film’s psychedelia?
‘David Yasbeck is an extraordinarily unique composer and he has given it a very Latin heartbeat. I quietly think that people will be enormously surprised and delighted because the book is so taut and funny and the music so funky.’
You’ve done a lot of brilliant comedy, do you have a highlight?
‘It goes from one highlight to another, but I just don’t know it at the time. When we were doing “Black Books”, nobody had a clue whether it worked and looking back, it was such a gift. When I went to the RSC I was afraid I was deserting my three children but now I realise that what set me on my path to the theatre that I’m doing now.’
So what’s next? Another musical?
‘I’m learning as I go along not to say no, but we’ll see. I’m so enjoying doing this. It all feels a little like learning to ice skate. I have been in a state of low-grade terror for 18 months. I have sung before on stage but never with this level of exposure, so I’m wearing a lot of UV cream.’
‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ is at the Playhouse Theatre until May 9.