Annabel Smith plays Mrs Conray in the forthcoming production of Turn of the Screw. It runs at the Mercury Theatre, colchester, from February 23 until March 10. For tickets call the box office on 01206 573948 or go on-line at

What or who got you interested theatre? Did you take part in any productions at school?

I was painfully shy as a child and my mum signed me up to a drama class outside of school to help ease my fear of speaking to people. Something clicked and I found a way of working with and embracing my shyness through acting. I remember deciding at a young age that I wanted to be an actor and ended up going to Stage2 Youth Theatre in Birmingham which gave me a great sense of purpose as a teenager. We put on a huge range of productions and I was able to find and develop a true love for stories and the theatre. Theatre became a form of communication that I could really grasp on to and (alongside other creative outlets) it still very much is.

Are or were any members of your immediate family involved in the theatre?

No they aren’t but they are very supportive audience members.

Who is the most inspiring person you’ve worked with and why?

I can’t name one person in particular, there have been many, especially in the past year or two as I’ve been lucky enough to work with brilliant teams of people on incredibly rich, diverse pieces of theatre. I’ve genuinely been inspired and learned in many different ways from them all.

What formal training have you done?

I did a short stint at The Lee Strasberg Institute in New York but my main formal training was three years at The Oxford School of Drama.

Do you have any specialist skills – anything from stilt walking to dress-making – which you work into your repertoire?

I paint. I hope one day to do a play or piece involving painting a huge mural/art piece live on stage within a play (or something like that), that’d be just great and also probably quite terrifying.

Which experience/role do you regard as the highlight of your career to date?

My most recent project, playing Grace in Angela Betzien’s play The Dark Room. It was, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, my first introduction to Australian theatre and life there in the Northern Territory. The play’s ferocity, pure rawness and desperate need to survive for the people living in such harsh, unjust, uncompromising circumstances within this unrelenting environment hit me full force. The play quite literally howls. And even though it is set in and specific to Australia it carries messages and themes that are placeable and resonate deeply all over the world; racial/sexual discrimination, failures of care systems, fights for justice, fragility of relationships, breakdowns of communication and abuse of power and trust. It was one of the most important pieces of theatre I’ve done, a true privilege to be a part of. The play and Grace taught me lessons and shaped me permanently in a way that I hope I will continue to take forward, learn from and share throughout my life.

What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?

Not so much embarrassing but I tripped during a play and whacked my head on the corner of a wooden box whilst running up a huge Lighthouse set...I didn’t know where I was for a time but carried on with a frantic new energy and slight abrasion.

Which actor (s) performer (s) do you most admire and why?

There are many. But...right now, actor-wise, it’s Frances Macdormand. As well as seeing her and thinking she was great in ‘Fargo’, I recently saw the film ‘Three Billboards outside Missouri’ and she made me laugh, cry and question existence all at the same time. Surely that’s what it’s all about.

What role would you most like to play and why?

Again there are many... but I have always wanted to be a part of or play anything in a Sam Shepard play. His plays are so brilliantly obscure, dark, funny, sensitive and electric, and get straight to the heart and wonderful oddities and eccentricities of people, relationships and life. My favourite play is Cowboy Mouth which he co-wrote with Patti Smith (of whom I am also a big admirer). I hope one day to get Cowboy Mouth put on in a little fringe theatre somewhere and play Cavale. As to when, how and where I don’t know but I read it as a teenager and the two central characters Cavale and Slim have been lurking around ever since.

Any big plans for the future?

To try and not plan too much for the future and keep following my instincts as best I can.

Any tricks for remembering your lines or other useful tips to pass on to other actors/directors?

Take your time, listen and trust yourself.