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Dillie Keane

Not Just Fascinating Aida!

Sheila Connor talks to Dillie Keane, a versatile, hard-working and straightforward actress

The venue is the fifteenth floor of St. George’s Hotel in Langham Place, its panoramic windows giving a spectacular view of the London rooftops, while a vertigo-inducing downward glance reveals the spire of All Souls Church next to Broadcasting House. The occasion is a launch party celebrating the 70th birthday of the Cockney musical Me and My Girl – a show which, twenty one years ago, launched Emma Thompson and Robert Lindsay into stardom – and which will be embarking on an extensive national tour later this year. The original show, written by organist Noel Gay (real name Reginald Armitage) and starring Lupino Lane, played at the Victoria Palace at the end of the thirties for an incredible 1,646 performances. It was Gay’s son, Richard, who revived it in the eighties, and now it is grandson, Alex Armitage – together with ‘Fiery Angel’ Edward Snape – who is presenting this latest production. There’s no doubting its popularity..

I am here to interview Dillie Keane – one of the founder members of the brilliant satirical singing trio Fascinating Aida, and, as the room rapidly fills with stars, press, and publicists I am introduced to Dillie and amid the increasing noise and chatter we manage to find a relatively quiet spot to begin.

I find I am constantly referring to Fascinating Aida – after all it did begin in 1983 and has lasted (so far) for twenty three years, also being a favourite of mine for a very long time – so I asked what had brought her to this show with its common sense, down to earth, Cockney theme, and not her usual style.

“Well I wouldn’t like to think that I could only do satire” she says, rather resentfully, “I have been doing it for a long time, but in between I’ve done some deeply tragic Irish plays. I’ve done Juno and the Paycock. I’ve played Playboy of the Western World. I’ve played Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa – I’ve done Noël Coward”. A woman of many parts – Keane originally studied music at Trinity College, Dublin, before completing a three year acting course at LAMDA, and as well as writing songs, acting and singing she also writes a regular column for The Stage, and still manages to find time to play golf.

In this show she is playing the part of the Duchess – the autocratic matriarch who disapproves of Cockney Bill in the show, but is won over by his charm. “I don’t want to bring any baggage to it. I just want to do the part well!” Will she dance in this show brought a smiling “Ask the director! I had the usual dance training at LAMDA and I did tap years ago but, no I won’t be tap-dancing in this show – I can assure you of that – I don’t think Duchesses tap dance – although I’m sure I do the Lambeth Walk.”.

After giving her a Roman Catholic upbringing, I read that her parents were horrified at the idea of show business and meeting ‘the common people’. “Yes,” laughs Dillie “I read that too! My parents dreaded me going into the theatre but really because of the insecure life.”

Having worked with so many, does she have a favourite co-star? “My mother once asked me – I’ve got eight nieces and three nephews - ‘Do you have a favourite?’. Of course I do – whoever’s standing nearest! I’ve worked with some really wonderful people – played Donna Lucia with Eric Sykes in Charley’s Aunt, and I’m having a wonderful time with Jenny (Éclair) and Linda (Robson), it’s a laugh a minute!”

(The three are currently touring until June 9th with Grumpy Old Women, which then opens in the West End for a ‘strictly limited’ thirty seven performances).

“Of course I had great fun with Fascinating Aida or I wouldn’t have done it for so long”

Me and My Girl will tour from September until Christmas, and then after a short break there will be another five months. Does she enjoy touring – especially such a long one? “Yes – I thrive on it, and anyone who finds touring tiring I say ‘Oh, go to bed early!’. I’m on one-night-stands at the moment which is much more…..knackering ….but with weekly or two-weekly there’s time to settle in….. You actually have time to get fit and relax and do things.”

Having a flat in Chiswick and with a partner living in Oxfordshire, she will commute whenever she can, and mostly divides her time between the two homes. Is her partner also in show business? That made her laugh! “No – he’s in horses and farming – he breeds race horses.” No, Deane doesn’t ride – she’s frightened of horses. “I did say that I will start riding the day you start piano lessons”. It would appear that she feels safe on that one!

“I had a couple of years of not really working very much because my father was dying and my partner got cancer – hopefully now in recovery.”. A very difficult time to go through, but it seems Deane is not one to let life get her down for long and, never having been out of work she’s now back on the road, and in fact had to dash off after her interview to catch a train to Halifax where she joins the other ‘Grumpy Old Women’ to continue their tour.

She has appeared in theatres, opera houses and on the cabaret circuit all over the world, but “If you ever get the chance for a holiday, where would you go?” brought a very uncompromising “Italy! I wouldn’t go anywhere else, wouldn’t bother. Culture, music, food, scenery, sunshine, enchantment – paradise.”

She is really looking forward to playing the part of the Duchess “….a lovely part, there’s comedy in it………an enchanting musical”.

Originally she was first inspired to write ‘subversive comic songs’ by the legendary Tom Lehrer, and has recently toured with Kit and the Widow in Tomfoolery based on Lehrer's work, one of the lines being “If anyone feels like joining in the chorus ….we’d be awfully grateful if you’d leave right now”.

Three years ago Fascinating Aida had One Last Flutter at the Comedy Theatre. Is it really to be the last FA show? “It might be! I don’t know! I’m not being deliberately obscure – it depends if I fancy it and I don’t at the moment.” I look forward to seeing Dillie in whatever she decides to do, but I am still hoping for at least one more ‘flutter’ from FA...

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©Peter Lathan 2006