One of Southend's most famous daughters Gemma Craven is coming back to town with the touring show Shakespeare Revue. While here she will spending time with her seriously ill father. She talks to SALLY KING

Actress Gemma Craven likes to get back to her family home in Southend as often as she can.

Next week, for the first time in her 32-year career on the stage, work will be bringing Gemma to the Cliffs Pavilion and she will be able to combine business with leisure.

"I like to see Mum and Dad," she explains. "Particularly since dad became ill.

Her father Gabriel has developed the devastating illness Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a disease that affects the brain, particularly balance and vision.

Gemma's father is one of a known 3,000 people in the country affected by the illness, often confused with Parkinson's disease, which also is effecting the Dagenham-born celebrity Dudley Moore.

"PSP is untreatable at the moment," Gemma adds sadly. "I am involved in trying to raise awareness of the condition and of the charity.

This weekend is the flag day for the charity - they sell Magnolia badges - and I hope people will support it."

Not that there are likely to be collectors on every street corner. "There is just my mother and a couple of her friends," says Gemma.

She is coming to the Cliffs in the Shakespeare Revue on April 19, but feels the title of the show doesn't do it justice: "Some of us feel the title is offputting. Revue is an old-fashioned word, people don't know what it is. It should have Up the Bard or something above the title.

"People who like Shakespeare like the show because they enjoy the in-jokes and innuendoes. People who don't like Shakespeare like the fact that the mickey is being taken out of him.

"The show is a selection of sketches with a Shakespearean theme. I love doing the sketch based on Lady Bracknell from the Importance of Being Earnest having a chat with her so-called future son-in-law Othello.

"There's another one where an amateur dramatic society are putting on Hamlet. It's the note session afterwards - it's so funny!

"In fact some friends who are members of the Little Theatre Club travelled to see it in Bury St Edmonds and they said it was so true. . ."

Gemma herself was a member of the Little Theatre Club in Southend in her early days and was invited back last year to help them celebrate their 50th anniversary.

"I haven't worked in Southend since I was at the Palace in 1968," remembers Gemma, who moved to the town when she was ten.

"I was employed as a stage manager. I was told I was useless on stage and I couldn't sing or dance. I worked as stage manager to get my Equity card.

"I just laugh now when I think of it," says the actress who has sung and danced major roles in the West End. "I just think 'Thank goodness I proved them wrong'." She discreetly declines to name the person who held her in such low esteem.

Gemma's family came to England from Dublin, and lived for six weeks in Holloway.

When they came to Southend it was with some relief that she settled into St Helen's and then later into St Bernard's, a school that had already set two other actresses, Sally Ross and Helen Mirren, on the road to success.

"The school was run by nuns then," she explains. "I loved it. They were great and I felt very safe. I was so shy."

The Shakespeare Revue is a travelling production. When it leaves Southend, Gemma will be heading off to Worthing and then to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The tour ends in July.

Now, however, she is looking forward to seeing her parents and enjoying her father's company while she can.

"Tell the Echo readers that I would really appreciate some help for the PSP Association," she says.

PSP Association badges are available from Our Lady of Lourdes, London Road, Leigh or donations can be sent direct to PSP Association, The Old Rectory, Wappenham Towcester, NN12 85Q.

Tickets for the Shakespeare Revue are available from the box office at the Cliffs Pavilion, Station Road, Westcliff. Phone 01702 351135 to book.

Revue the situation - Southend-raised actress Gemma Craven, pictured right with fellow Shakespeare Revue actress Jan Hartley, calls in with the touring show at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend later this month. A flag day for the disease affecting her father is being held in Leigh tomorrow

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