Former Emmerdale star turns the air blue at Oran Mor

ELEGANT, demure and refined ...

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n Joanna Tope and Scott Fletcher play the 'odd couple' in the latest lunchtime drama at Oran Mor   Picture: Stewart Attwood
n Joanna Tope and Scott Fletcher play the 'odd couple' in the latest lunchtime drama at Oran Mor Picture: Stewart Attwood

the very soft-spoken actress Joanna Tope doesn't seem at all the sort of lady who could let rip with a few curses and sweary words.

Indeed, you can't imagine the mother-of-three producing more than a mild criticism from her mouth, never mind the sort of invective that would shame a sergeant major.

But these days Joanna is turning the air a nice deep blue.

Why?

The respected stage actress and former Emmerdale star (she played Dr Clare Scott in the rural soap in the Seventies) is starring in this week's Oran Mor A Pie, A Play and a Pint production, A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity.

"It's a comedy," says Joanna, "but it's also a play about grief.

"My character, Annabel, loses her husband, but she 'heals' herself in an amusing way.

"She meets a young man, Jamie (Scott Fletcher) at her husband's funeral – he used to work for her husband – and, quite by chance, they form an unlikely alliance."

During the course of the drama, Jamie teaches Annabel to swear. Words come out of his mouth without meaning to.

She picks up on the language, because it's the sort her husband once used before he became a successful businessman.

In the process, Annabel discovers something about herself, that she lives in a world of small talk.

"It's only when she tries out these words on her close friends she realises they're not actually listening," she says.

"The play is very much about realising there are people who go through their lives and say nothing, those who are afraid to express an opinion, in case they don't fit in."

But of course there are lots of laughs to be found in the incongruity of the two characters becoming close.

"It's a wonderful script by Douglas Maxwell," she says.

"And yes, I have found myself in situations like my character. I think the trick is not to get too caught up in it."

Joanna has had a colourful acting life.

Born in Devon, she was in love with the idea of acting from the age of six.

"I attended an all-girls boarding school and played blokes mostly," she says smiling.

"Then, when we teamed up with my brothers' school for a production of the Pirates of Penzance, I fell in love with my leading man – and knew this was the life I wanted to lead."

Joanna studied drama at Manchester University, went on to work in rep in Pitlochrie, and spent the next ten years working in theatre and television.

Meantime, her parents moved to Scotland to live, while Joanna toured the country playing a vast range of roles, from Ibsen's Hedda Gabler to Miss Adelaide in the hit musical Guys and Dolls.

One Christmas, when her parents hosted a party, Joanna came home to attend and was introduced to the man who would become her husband.

They went on to have three children and have lived in Glasgow ever since.

Joanna admits parts are harder to come by for older actresses.

"They tend to be grannies," she says. "So you have to wait until you're a certain age to be re-discovered."

But she has in fact made several appearances at the Citizens' Theatre.

And more recently she was nominated for a New York Drama Desk Award for another of Douglas Maxwell's plays, the one woman show, The Promise.

Directed by Johnny McKnight, Joanna played a troubled retired school teacher.

"We performed it here and in London and then took it to New York," she says.

"This was a play which had some 'big' words in it, like the 'n' word. But it all went so well.

"And the audiences loved it, even though I played it with a Scots accent. And we got great reviews. It all seemed to come together."

Now, she's delighted to have the chance to appear in the lunchtime show, A Respectable Widow. But did vulgarity come easily?

"I'm afraid it did," she says, laughing.

"These aren't words I'm unfamiliar with. But that's life."

l A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity, A Play, Pie and a Pint, 1pm at Oran Mor, until Saturday.

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