Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Debra Baker: SAD

By | Published on Friday 25 March 2022

Coming up at the Omnibus Theatre is the staging of a play that really caught my eye, because it’s called ‘SAD’ – the title being a reference to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a problem that I have some experience of myself. 

It’s the latest work by actor and writer Victoria Willing, whose work you may well have come across on both the big and small screens. 

The star of the show, though, is another familiar TV face, Debra Baker. I spoke to her to find out more about ‘SAD’ and about the actor herself. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of the play? Who is ‘SAD’ about and what story does it tell?
DB: ‘SAD’ tells the story of Gloria, who has Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the people in her immediate circle. 

In the story, it’s winter and lots of things have or are changing in Gloria’s life at once and it’s all got a bit overwhelming, so she’s locked herself in the attic until she can remember or discover who she is. 

All of the people in her immediate world overlap with each other, and in some unexpected ways.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
DB: It explores lots of themes such as love, friendship, ageing and grief, and how people do or don’t deal with them.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of style or genre…? Is it a comedy…?   
DB: It’s a dark comedy – but like all good writing it has many parts to it – it’s very funny in places but also has some serious bits, some tender bits and some uncomfortable bits.

CM: What attracted you to the role you play? What made you want to perform in this piece?  
DB: It’s such a great script, and so wonderful to have an older female at the centre of the story. We don’t often see that on stage, and the reality of that, so it’s great to get to be part of that.

Just because people are older it doesn’t mean they have everything neatly worked out, so the story is about the messiness of life. 

Also Gloria is just so free, she doesn’t self-edit or hide her feelings, whatever she is feeling you get, and that can change from moment to moment, so it’s a really great character to get to play, as I have to go on a real emotional journey and switch between emotions very quickly.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the cast? 
DB: Everyone is lovely. There are four cast members: myself, Kevin N Golding, Lucas Hare and Izabella Urbanowiz. All of our characters are very different in the play and it has been cast so well, everyone is perfect in their role. It’s amazing how many people are needed to produce a play too. The team at Omnibus Theatre have been very welcoming. 

CM: Can you tell us about the playwright? Has she been involved with the production?
DB: Victoria Wiling is an actor and writer, so therefore has a great understanding of character, and she has already had one play produced at Omnibus Theatre. We have been very lucky and spoiled to have her in the room with us and she has been so generous with her time and has helped with the characters and story, and it’s been really useful and lovely to have her as part of the team.

CM: Can we focus on you a bit, now? Did you always want to be a performer and how did your career begin?   
DB: Yes, I always wanted to perform ever since I got up on stage with my sisters when I was about three or four – I wasn’t supposed to, they were in a show! Then I went to a tap dancing club and we put on musical shows for years. 

However, I was put off doing acting as a job by the careers sdviser of all people! So I ended up working as a secretary for nearly 20 years. It was only when I had my own daughter and told her she could be anything she wanted when she grew up, that the penny dropped for me and I realised so could I.

So I won a scholarship and went to drama school at the age of 36. Luckily in this industry you’re never too old to start.  

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your career thus far?
DB: I have been so lucky to have done such a wide range of projects and work. Highlights have been winning the Norman Beaton Fellowship and getting to work on Radio 4 for six months, which was so much fun – you can play ANYTHING as long as your voice can, it doesn’t matter what you look like.  

Another highlight was multi-roleing in a verbatim play called ‘Someone To Blame’ about a real miscarriage of justice – the boy the play was about was still in prison and during the run of the show he got his court of appeal date – we all went to the court and it was a shock for everyone when he was released on the first day! It was incredible to actually be involved in someone’s real life and see a great outcome for him and his family.  

I was also really thrilled to be part of ‘It’s A Sin’ by Russell T Davies, the writing was just incredible and we all knew it was an important story that needed to be told about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?  
DB: In terms of my own creativity, I also write and am just finishing a trilogy of short films which I am looking to film in the summer. So that’s my short term aim and focus. 

I’m also about to collaborate with a friend of mine to write a comedy thriller for TV, with two older women in the main roles. And long term I have a feature film I’ve started writing, with lots of roles for older women, which I would love to eventually direct and star in!   

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
DB: I am auditioning at the moment. In the past I was restricted as to what I could do due to my parenting responsibilities, however my daughter is now grown up so I’m free to do any work I like. 

So I’d love to do some things I’ve been unable to in the past – a West End show, a theatre tour, a top British TV drama – there have been some brilliant ones on recently – really good scripts and great production values.

I’d also love to do some big feature films and then in a few years maybe a nice part on a soap – I did a couple of episodes on ‘Corrie’ a few years back and everyone was lovely so I’d love to go back there.   

‘SAD’ is on at Omnibus Theatre from 5-30 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, head to the venue website here.

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