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Pushing the boundaries

Multi-tasker: Angie Le Mar

“I NEVER set out to be a writer, I’m a writer by default,” says Angie Le Mar as we sit down for a chat during rehearsals for her latest West End theatre production, In My Shoes.

It’s that frank, unapologetic and blatantly honest manner that has seen Le Mar rise through the ranks in a cut-throat entertainment industry to become one of the leading black figures in the world of TV, theatre and radio.
“Nobody was writing for me and nobody was giving me roles,” says the star, who has made no secret of her constant struggle with dyslexia.

“That’s when I wrote Funny Black Women and when it sold out, I thought, ‘maybe I can do this!”

Funny Black Women On The Edge was the first foray into theatre for Le Mar, who was already an established comedian at the time. The 1993 sketch show played to a sold out audience and put the entertainer’s writing and directing skills firmly on the map.

It went on tour around the country, playing to packed out audiences and leaving Le Mar’s growing fan base begging for more. True to form, the self-proclaimed workaholic did not disappoint.

She went on to pen the productions The Brothers, whose 2008 run broke box office records at its Hackney Empire residency; Do You Know Where Your Daughter Is?, which recently enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival; and Forty, which had audiences and critics alike praising its gritty realism.

But despite her previous successes, Le Mar admits that her latest venture, a one-woman show in London’s West End, is her biggest challenge and most nerve-wracking experience to date.

“This is the one-woman show that I’ve always wanted to do, but was always scared to do,” she says. “It’s a test of acting and a test of writing. It’s basically a test of all of my skill sets and it’s something that I’ve never done before, which makes it all the more nerve wracking. I think I’ll be nervous until the opening night because I’m stepping out of myself.”

In My Shoes, which finds Angie performing as six apparently dissimilar individuals, including a 16-year-old boy, whose lives are intricately interwoven, was inspired by the entertainer’s life-long idol, actress Whoopi Goldberg.

“When I saw Whoopi’s one-woman show on Broadway, I was blown away. I’ve always wanted to get to that point were I felt confident enough to stretch myself to play so many characters and write a similarly beautiful piece of work. For this production I’ve really pushed myself. It’s not the Angie you have ever seen before.”

Among playing a troubled teen, whose mannerisms she managed to master by following her own son around the house, Le Mar plays a white woman who is struggling to find acting work, as well as her famed character, Falushilah Falashilay, who made her debut in Funny Black Women.

“It’s a collection of so many things you’ve seen over the years. The reason it’s called In My Shoes is because we step into people’s lives and get a snapshot of why they do the things they do.”

Asked whether her inclusion of a white character was to, in any way, appease a more diverse audience as she enters the throws of West End theatre, she replied:

“Not at all. Yes, of course we always want to get a bigger audience, but when your production is in Soho, your audience is broad.

“Let’s be honest, from my personal experience, it’s no stretch of the imagination to have an unemployed actress that is a black female.

“What is stretching me and my imagination is making that character white – and doing it without make-up! It’s just me as an actress, trying to make my audience believe in the character I’m playing.

She continues: “When you come and see In My Shoes, you’ll see a show that you never thought you’d see from me. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions in terms of recognising yourself in somebody.

“I’ve been writing it for over a year and my director, Femi Elufowoju [Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement nominee] has come on board and tightened it.

“He has challenged my acting and has challenged me. I’ve built up a really loyal audience and they’ve been good to me and I would like them to think, ‘Angie is on a journey.’ I am extremely proud of this body of work.”

* In My Shoes is at Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1 from October 14-November 5. For tickets call 020 7478 0100 or visit www.sohotheatre.com

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