Meera Syal 2010

Meera Syal, Starred as Shirley Valentine at the Trafalgar Studios One

27th June, the year is very flexible according to whose asking!

Place of birth?
Wolverhampton, New Cross Hospital to be precise, though most of my growing up was in a small mining village called Essington.

Did you go to training school, if so which one?
I didn't go to drama school, I did a joint English and Drama degree at Manchester University which was definitely the right choice for me as the course offered both an academic and practical balance. We had a space called the Stephen Joseph studio, every monday night anyone could put on anything they wanted, classics, weird experimental stuff, comedy. It was the best training ground, though sadly I hear no longer part of the course, which is a real shame.

Briefly tell us how you became involved with Shirley Valentine
I got one of those calls out of the blue from my agent asking if I'd be interested in reading for what I consider to be one of the best roles written for an actress in British Theatre. I read for Willy Russell amongst others, quite nerve wracking as you can imagine, especially as the first thing he asked was for me to read it in a Liverpool accent! And two days later I'd heard I'd got the part. But I think I owe a huge debt to casting director Lisa Makin who recommended me to the Chocolate Factory theatre where the run began. Often when you get a brave piece of casting like this was, it takes someone who believes in you to just give a little push and I really owe her!

Your first stage performance?
That would be Sleeping Beauty at Villiers Infants school when I was 4. Apparently when I demanded that my handsome prince kissed me, the boy in question burst into tears. It's been downhills since then.

Career highlight to date?
Performing Shirley Valentine at the Trafalgar Studios to such appreciative audiences is a major highlight. One person shows are obviously hard work but the reaction and response you get back is amazing.

What roles would you most like to play?
I've always wanted to play Katherina in Taming Of The Shrew, and I'd love to play a real villainess, someone cruel dark and powerful, like a Mafia boss but a woman. Why not? We're best at multi tasking which must help to run a criminal empire!

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Create a loving solid family home, if you have that, you can cope with anything else life throws at you.

What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
I was in a production of Peer Gynt at the National Theatre some years ago and had to climb over a roof and run down wearing a very tight corset. As I went over the top, my boobs popped out of the corset so I had air bags to see me down the other side.

What is the most annoying part about your job?
Not getting one!

If you had not become a performer, what might you have done instead?
Child pychologist.

Favourite after-show haunts
My sofa, buttered toast and a cuppa.

Who are your favourite actors/actresses
I'm drawn to the performers who bring honesty and a lack of vanity to their work so I would say in no particular order, Spencer Tracey, Susan Sarandon, Judi Dench, Julie Walters, and Gregory Peck.

If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and what would you say to them?
I'd like to have a chance to talk with Mahatma Gandhi and understand more about the passive resistance movement he started to gain Indian's Independence, and also ask his advice on how to solve the various messes we're in now.

What was the last book you read, and name some of your favourite authors?
I just read Margaret Attwood's After The Flood, she's one of my favourite authors. Many of her books are prophetic regarding issues such as global warming, and she writes with such imagination and elegance. Other than her, Toni Morrison is a giant, I've always loved Dickens for his characterisation and humanity.

What was the last film you saw, and name some of your favourite movies?
I haven't had time to go to the movie for months, I think it may well have been Toy Story 3 with my son, brilliant! Other than that, my fave rom com is when Harry Met Sally, I'm a huge Woody Allen fan, Radio Days being a favourite, and much admire Shane Meadows gritty human British films.

Favourite TV programs?
Again, as I've been on stage I miss a lot, but I always try and make space for any new drama coming up, I thought Peter Bowker's Occupation last year was superb, I love the live theatre pieces that Sky Arts have been showing and always find BBC4 is worth dipping into at any time because their output is so thoughtful and different.

Favourite holiday destinations?
India and Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast. And in Britain, you can't beat the Suffolk coast around Aldeburgh and Southwold, it's like stepping back into the fifties, very peaceful.

Do you have any hobbies?
I play netball for a local team, though that's been a bit lax lately and I read a book a week, it keeps me sane!

Do you have any superstitions?
I always offer up a little mantra to the Hindu elephant headed god Ganesh before I go on stage. He's the favourite god of actors in India and I always have a little statue of him in my dressing room.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
My husband and two kids naturally. Although maybe that's a bit cruel, stranding them too. So then it would have to be a laptop, a piano and a fully equipped kitchen and fridge. is that cheating?

What are your future plans?
I'm doing Shirley till the end of October, then writing and performing in a 12 minute film for a series called Little Crackers for Sky, about a Christmas childhood memory. Apparently Dawn French and Kathy Burke are also doing one, so I'm in great company.

Looking for the best seats...