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Anna Madely
Anna Madeley in Coram Boy

Anna Madeley - Two Boys (and a Girl) for the Price of One

Philip Fisher meets the young star of the National Theatre's Coram Boy.

Anna Madeley is one of this country's brightest and most versatile young actresses and has achieved a vast amount in the half dozen or so years since she graduated from drama school. 2005 has been a wonderful year for her as a stage actress.

In the spring, she played a leading part opposite Michael Pennington in Laura Wade's Colder Than Here at Soho. She moved from there to two starring roles at the Donmar. First, she starred in David Greig's The Cosmonaut's Last Message ..... also with Pennington. She followed that up with David Grindley's revival of The Philanthropist in which she played opposite Simon Russell Beale.

Now, she is acting in two separate parts, boys aged eight and 15, in what may well turn out to be the National Theatre's biggest hit since The History Boys and His Dark Materials, Coram Boy.

She is clearly delighted by the opportunity that the National has offered her to star in their Christmas hit. Coram Boy is Melly Still's adaptation of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year by Jamila Gavin. Its star does a good job of selling this dark, Dickensian story. "There's a lot of romance, a lot of violence, a lot of all sorts thrown in as well, something to please everyone".

In the first half, she plays 15 year-old Alexander, a musical prodigy at the Cathedral School in Gloucester. Not only does Miss Madeley convincingly act as an immature teenager. She also sings the part, demonstrating a delightful voice and remarkable confidence for somebody has not seriously sung solos in public before.

"Singing's something I did quite a lot of as a teenager but at drama school I didn't do any more". It was, though, one of the factors that helped her to get the part in Coram Boy and subsequently, "It's been an amazing journey.... I'm really enjoying it". Her acting skills are tested too when she convincingly portrays eight year-old Aaron, the Coram Boy of the title.

Of becoming two boys, Miss Madeley says "I thought that playing boys would be hard". In fact, "playing kids is great fun, a bit of rough and tumble which is a good laugh".

Melly Still was most helpful to her two leading actresses, both of whom had to change gender. There was an opportunity to meet a bunch of kids who came in and became involved in the rehearsal process. The actors played football with them and also found out their views on life. For example they were asked "What their views were on girls when they were eight and what their views were on girls when they were 15?"

The actress eventually overcame the problems that this almost Shakespearean dilemma presented, "It's quite funny being a boy with a crush on a girl - when you're a girl playing a boy" she giggles. This reveals one of the Miss Madeley's most endearing and lovable traits. She is constantly looking for the humour in situations and always seems ready to dissolve into happy laughter.

Miss Madeley has had a remarkably varied career already. On TV, she made her name as Student Nurse Samantha Beaumont in The Royal. This gave the tyro screen star a chance to play with Wendy Craig, a lady whom she clearly admires. She has had a number of small film parts too but no major roles so far.

Anna Madeley initially got into acting as a result of being sent to speech lessons at 7 or 8 with Stella Greenfield, a lady who doubled as a child agent - shades of Coram Boy and the child slave trade one might ponder?

She was bitten by the acting bug almost instantly and started her professional career in distinguished company with the RSC some 20 years ago, cast as the child skeleton in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

After gaining some acting experience at school, Miss Madeley made the decision to forgo a formal university education and pursue her love (and a degree) at Central.

Since then, she has been almost permanently employed although the Donmar did pluck her from a four-day career at Harrods earlier in 2005 and dropped her in opposite Simon Russell Beale - "a real sweetheart" - possibly the finest actor of his day.

On stage, she has worked with almost all of the major companies and theatres in London, as well as making several distinguished appearances outside the capital.

She spent a happy period with the RSC, really steeping herself in the theatrical life and the company of her fellow actors. She enjoyed two separate spells there, apart from the childhood foray.

The first was taken up with work primarily on modern plays including Peter Whelan's A Russian in the Woods, This gave her a chance to enjoy developing an East German accent, something that she really enjoyed; and then being recruited by Sean Holmes for the Jacobethan season.

This allowed her to work with Russell Beale's major rival for that finest actor crown, as, while she was there, she made several appearances with Sir Antony Sher, particularly in a leading part in The Roman Actor.

What she realised when playing with these greats is that "they are just actors but they're also people that you admire and have gone to see and really respect. You feel great that you're working with those people. It does up your game and you do learn from them".

In addition, she was a lovably fresh Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Bristol Old Vic which has been filmed by Heritage Theatre. Add in the Donmar, Soho and the Royal Court in which she enjoyed investigating contemporary Russian life in Ladybird and you have the makings of a distinguished and widespread career for somebody who is still in her twenties.

Anna Madeley loves variety in her work and, ideally, would like to combine old plays and new, theatre with film and television. To date, her career has followed an almost perfect pattern allowing her to sample most aspects of her profession.

Looking forward, she rules out nothing but the smart money may well back her to become a film star before too long. She has the classic good looks and natural acting ability, which mean that, before long, she could well be snapped up by Hollywood producers who always seem to be on the look out for British talent.

If that happened, the English stage's loss would have the compensation of bringing one of its most talented young actresses before a much larger audience.

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©Peter Lathan 2005