Sammi O'Neill interviews Sabina Franklyn

Sammi O'Neill | Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sammi O'Neill interviews Sabina Franklyn written by Sammi O'Neill for Downstage Centre, published on Tuesday, June 23, 2015Sabina Franklyn has a long career on stage and on television


You are on tour at the moment with Alan Ayckbourn's table manners. Can you tell me a little bit about the production?

    Table Manners is actually part of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays called ‘The Norman Conquests’. There are three plays all together, this one ‘Table Manners’ takes place in a dining room, whereas ‘Living Together’ takes place in a living room and the last, ‘Round and Round the Garden’ is set in the garden.   Although they are part of a trilogy each play stands alone in it’s own right, particularly this one, Table Manners. I've been in it many times before and it works completely as a standalone which is why it's always done the most regularly. It is also very funny!    


I was lucky enough to work with lots of comics like Mike Yarwood but at the time missed theatre and yearned to do it a lot. Round and Round the Garden will be on at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne in July. If people were to see both do you need to see them in order?

    Yes that's right, Chris Jordan is going to produce it later in the summer. One of our cast, Jo Castleton who plays Annie will be in it.   It doesn't really matter which order you see them. Alan Ayckbourn is brilliant with the way he writes these plays. If you saw all three, you would discover the links, for example if someone leaves the stage to fetch something from another room, in another one of the plays you would see what happens there. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in sequence, it is all very clever.   Saying that ‘Round and Round the Garden’ should be done last, but it is not essential.    


What can you tell me about Table Manners as a standalone play?

    Reg, Annie and Ruth are all brothers and sisters. Annie still lives in the old family house looking after her mother who is bedridden upstairs. One weekend all the family decide to descend on her and as quite often is the case, when families get together they find out that they don't like each other very much.   I play Ruth who is married to the central character Norman. Norman is a bit frustrated in his marriage and wants to go around ‘saving’ women, so in each of the plays he makes a play for each of the women. This is why the trilogy is called The Norman Conquests!    


Ouch! How does Ruth cope with that?

    Ruth is a fairly tough business woman who is dedicated to her career. When it is pointed out by another character that she hadn't had children she says that this had been her choice and not Norman’s. She and Norman had an incredibly passionate relationship in the beginning but now as one character states they are like "two empty husks". Their relationship has burnt out and so she is living through her career. I think that she takes quite a lot of things in her stride really.    


Do you have anything in common with her character?

    Not at all! I have loved my career but I’d never do what she did and I certainly would be furious if my husband started making passes at, or planned to go off for weekends with my sister.    


Talking of your own illustrious and varied career, you have done plenty of television and stage work which do you prefer?

    I have loved it all. I remember when I was working for Thames for about 6 or 7 years, I was working on ‘Keep it in the Family and then ‘Full House’ and I was lucky enough to work with lots of comics like Mike Yarwood but at the time missed theatre and yearned to do it a lot.   When I do a lot of theatre I find I would love to do a television show. I think most actors think that way.   In the last year of ‘Keep it in the Family’ I was also at the National Theatre doing ‘The Rivals’, doing the two things concurrently I thought was perfect.   Last year was wonderful, I was doing a play at the Orange Tree in Richmond and then immediately after that I did an episode of ‘Count Arthur Strong’ on TV so that was a perfect balance but it doesn't happen very often, you cannot choose, you have to go where the work is.    


How did your career start?

    I started as an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. I returned there a couple of nights ago to see one of our cast, David Callister who is playing there in another Talking Scarlett production called ‘Stone Cold Murder’.   As I drove down it felt incredibly nostalgic because I was actually at the theatre for 13 or 14 months. I originally worked there to get my equity card because in those days you had to work for 40 weeks to gain your card. I loved it so much that I didn't realise that I had finished my 40 weeks. I stayed on for a year or so and then thought that I had better start getting acting jobs. I was very glad I had done the stage management.    


Was it always your plan to go from stage management into acting?

    To be honest, I was completely copying my parents! They were both actors (William Franklyn adn Margo Johns) and they had both started out being ASMs. They first got small parts alongside stage management and as their roles grew bigger they ceased doing the stage management. I absolutely wanted to emulate the beginning of their careers and I had a ball!   It doesn't happen that way nowadays with all the drama schools available. In those days, 40 years ago, there was a great Repertory Theatre system.   During ‘A School for Scheming’ at the Orange Tree in Richmond last year I was talking to all the young actors who all wanted to hear stories about my Rep days. It has all changed, now, actors travel round the country with a production but there are few companies where you work for 6 solid months doing a different play every two or three weeks. It is very different.    


As both your parents were actors were you channelled to take up acting as a career?

    They neither encouraged nor discouraged me I was literally born in the suitcase. When I was six months old my parents were both working at the Glasgow Citizen Theatre for six months and there is a photograph of me in my cot, in their dressing room while they were making-up, getting ready for their show.   When they were both very busy on tour I would go and stay with my grandparents. My grandfather was also an actor called Leo Franklin who used to work with Brian Rix at the Whitehall for 20 years, so I spent a lot of my time backstage at the Whitehall.   It was very difficult not to want to go into acting because it is in my blood and I still feel to this day that a dressing room is like another home. I have actually slept in a dressing room.    


During this tour you are seeing quite a few dressing rooms!

    Yes is interesting, I have not done a tour with half weeks before, usually it is full weeks. Two weeks ago we did half a week in Yeovil and then we went to Chipping Norton it is wonderful!    


Do you like going on tour?

    I do like touring. When I did a lot, it was a little bit too much because I was away for 8 to 9 months of the year, but I haven't done a long tour since 2007 which is why I am enjoying this one so much. I haven't been to all of the places on this tour either, so that is nice.   Horsham is also the only place I shall be able to live at home though, so I am looking forward to it. I have played Horsham quite a lot because I used to work for a man called Leo Dickens who opened all his plays in Horsham and I was in quite a few. The Capital Theatre feels like another home. I love glass buildings, it feels open and light, you can have a coffee there, you can sit there in the daytime, it is how all theatres should be!    


What plans have you in Horsham when you're there in the daytime?

    I was with a girlfriend the other night and I think she’ll be driving friends up and down to see me rather a lot so I think that the three days will go by quickly particularly as we have a Wednesday matinee as well. I do have to say that I do like the shopping in Horsham.    


It is a lovely day today, have you got any more plans for the rest of the day?

    Having left my garden for a couple of weeks, I was shocked when I got home last week. It is not a big garden but at the moment it meets at the middle as is the way if you leave a garden for anytime in the summer sunshine. The roses are stunning but I think that I'm going to be deadheading for at least two hours.  


Sabina Franklyn is on tour with the Talking Scarlet production of Alan Acykbourn's 'Table Manners'. This will play at The Capitol Horsham between Monday 29th June and Wednesday 1st July 2015




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