It’s a tricky time to be interviewing actresses. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns against sexual harassment dominating
the news, it’s hard to know whether to raise the issue or just focus on the characters and costumes.
“Fortunately,” says Samantha Spiro, “Lady Windermere’s Fan makes it possible to discuss both.” Samantha is about to star in the Oscar Wilde play, alongside Jennifer Saunders and Kevin Bishop.
The first thing to flag about this production is that it’s directed by a woman – the actress and comedian Kathy Burke – who offered Samantha the role of the notorious Mrs Erlynne and is so far proving to be a joyous experience.
Spiro, best known as difficult Auntie Liz in Simon Amstell’s Jewish sitcom Grandma’s House, says: “Kathy and Wilde are a brilliant combination and she is so kind, generous and open.”
For the record, Spiro adores the stand-up Simon; he only has to utter the words “Will you…?” to her and she always does, she says. “That is how I ended up being a singing cow in Carnage, his mockumentary about veganism.”
From lyrical bovine to Lady Melessa Tarly in series six of Game of Thrones, it’s a CV that confirms her chameleon-like talent for capturing Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn and Golda Meir in Sky’s Psychobitches and Barbara Windsor in the biopic Babs.
Born in Whitechapel and raised in Mill Hill, Spiro’s father was in the rag trade before going into property, but longed to act and passed the dream on to his daughter.
In the early days, there were numerous offers to play the Jewish princesses, but Spiro rejected them all.
“I ran a mile because they made my skin crawl, but I never turn down the chance to play an authentic Jewish character, because they are much more interesting,” she explains.
She also has Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! at Regent’s Park, along with Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley under her belt.
Married to an actor-turned-corporate film-maker, Spiro has two young daughters and, although she is not religious, Friday night dinner at her parents is a must – but not for the next three months.
Until April, she will be strapped into a corset as Mrs Erlynne and command the second half of a play she had never read and now loves.
“I’ve had the opportunity to discover it, and the way it deals with strong women in Victorian society feels very relevant,” notes Spiro.
“My character is intelligent, glamorous and broke with convention when she left her husband and child for another man, and 20 years later tries to return to that world.
“The heart of the play is extremely moving – almost Ibsen-like, which I never anticipated.”
As predicted, Lady Windermere’s Fan, which is part of a year-long season at the Vaudeville Theatre, leads us to the topic of the moment – sexual harassment – and Spiro shares her view.
“I’ve been very lucky because, in all the years I’ve worked in this business, I’ve only had to put up with little moments of difficulty.
“Flirtations or a bottom grab didn’t bother me, but nothing I’ve experienced compares to the stories we have heard from other women.
“I’m just so delighted that it won’t be the same for our daughters,” she continues.
“Going forward, men won’t behave without check. It won’t be allowed now.
“There will still be intimidation, because you can’t change human nature, but there will be somewhere for a woman to go and talk about it. And hopefully that will be in every walk of life.”
Lady Windermere’s Fan runs until 7 April at Vaudeville Theatre,
London. Details: 0330 333 4814 or nimaxtheatres.com