BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Jodie Whittaker becomes a National treasure after winning lead role in Antigone

Jodie Whittaker becomes a National treasure after winning lead role in Antigone

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UPDATED:

23:48 GMT, 22 March 2012

Jodie Whittaker will star in the Greek tragedy Antigone at the National

Jodie Whittaker will star in the
Greek tragedy Antigone at the National

Jodie Whittaker had gone to Los Angeles to discuss working on a lucrative TV pilot drama. She was there for less than 24 hours when a call came from the National Theatre.

Was she interested, she was asked, in auditioning for the Greek tragedy Antigone

Up for grabs was the lead role of Antigone, the determined heroine who defies Creon, her uncle, and his orders that she not give her rebel brother a proper burial.

‘I had absolutely no intention of not being available to do this. I don’t know anyone who would turn this down,’ said the actress, who launched her screen career opposite Peter O’Toole in the award-winning movie Venus and has since done everything from St Trinian’s to Attack The Block.

‘This is the role of a lifetime, and when you get these kind of opportunities there’s no debate in your head about whether you stay in LA or go to the National,’ Jodie told me.

She and her actor-writer husband Christian Contreras scooted off to stay with friends in Arizona and she ended up filming herself reciting a scene from Antigone to email to the play’s director, Polly Findlay.

Her makeshift video must have done the trick because she got the part.

Jodie’s theatre experiences have included working at the Almeida, Shakespeare’s Globe and Trafalgar Studios — but sharing the National’s massive Olivier stage with an ensemble that includes former Dr Who star Christopher Eccleston (as Creon) and the likes of Annabel Scholey, Zoe Aldrich, Jamie Ballard, Luke Norris and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith marks her biggest theatrical undertaking.

Jodie sees Antigone as a young woman going up against a ‘testosterone-fuelled environment’ to do what’s right.

‘She defies Creon and there are huge consequences, but she’s not afraid to face them because she knows it’s for the greater good.

'I’m a 21st century, 29-year-old woman living in the Western world.

'It’s easy for us to read this 2,000-year-old play and stuff it with a modern attitude,’ she said, wryly observing that the drama has contemporary resonances about family and relationships.

Jodie Whittaker starred as Jessie alongside Peter O'Toole as Maurice in the 2006 film Venus

Jodie Whittaker starred as Jessie alongside Peter O'Toole as Maurice
in the 2006 film Venus

Even so, she chuckled as we discussed the family background that doomed Antigone to a life of misery.

Her father Oedipus married his own mother, who gave birth to two daughters and two sons.

Those two sons battled and killed each other. ‘A really happy and close family,’ she joked.

Antigone runs at the Olivier from May 23 as part of the National’s 12-a-ticket Travelex season.

Talking of running, Jodie’s competing in the Virgin London marathon on April 22 to raise money for Mencap (her fundraising page can be found online at virginmoneygiving.com/jodieteamharry).

After that, she’ll be running around that Olivier stage, having the time of her life.

The big song was I Will Always Love You, and Heather Headley was belting it out better than Whitney Houston.

One London theatre veteran had to reach all the way back to the time he saw Chita Rivera making her European debut in West Side Story at the Manchester Opera House in 1958 for something to compare with Ms Headley (right) and the impact she was making on him.

‘She’s fantastic!’ said my friend, who saw the Tony Award-winning star at a showcase for the stage version of The Bodyguard. ‘No one in this country knows who Heather Headley is, but by November, they will.’

Heather Headley made a big impact in a showcase of the stage version of the Bodyguard

Heather Headley made a big impact in a showcase of the stage version of the Bodyguard

Well, regular readers of this page will know I have been a fan of Ms Headley ever since I saw her play the lead in the musical Aida way back in 1997. She has a fabulous voice.

I know director Thea Sharrock and producers David Ian and Michael Harrison will whip The Bodyguard into tip-top shape before it begins previews at the Adelphi in November, before its official opening in early December.

I gather some stuff in the first act will be cut, but otherwise the show’s in good shape.

So far, the line-up of songs includes Queen Of The Night, I’m Your Baby Tonight, Saving All My Love For You, So Emotional, Run To You, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, I Have Nothing, All The Man That I Need, I’m Every Woman, All At Once, How Will I Know, One Moment In Time . . . and that big number.

The producers (as I said they would) are using songs from the movie, plus numbers from Houston’s catalogue.

Gary

Matt Lucas is going back to his roots by hosting a gala for his alma mater, the National Youth Music Theatre (as a member of which, back in 1987, he played Accrington Stanley, a pub comic, in The Roman Invasion Of Ramsbottom at the Edinburgh Festival).

NYMT In Concert With Matt Lucas & Friends will be held on April 22 at the Vaudeville Theatre.

In addition to compering, Matt will revisit his time in the musical Les Miserables by singing Thenardier’s comic number Master Of The House.

The ‘friends’ in question include Lara Pulver, who is preparing to be in Uncle Vanya at Chichester, and Amy Nuttall.

NYMT founder Jeremy James Taylor will direct, along with Sarah Redmond and Matt Hawksworth. Visit www.nymt.org.uk or call 0844 482 9675 for ticket details.

The star will also be seen next month in his new BBC1 panel show The Matt Lucas Awards.

Stephen Sondheim has given director Jonathan Kent’s Chichester Festival Theatre production of Sweeney Todd (with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton delivering the stage performances of their lives) his seal of approval. He’d love the two stars to take the deliciously grisly musical to Broadway when they complete their run at the Adelphi Theatre.

There’s no official word this will happen yet, because both actors have crazy schedules, but it would be fantastic if they did manage to cross the Atlantic with this Sweeney.