by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2005-04-20
Anybody who went to see Funkface! at the Arts Depot in North London recently will have seen actress Amanda Noar in action. The 40-year-old Mancunian not only directed the play, a fictionalised account of the life of divorced Jewish mum Regina Woolfstein (founder of the Funkface fashion label), but also starred in it as Jenny, sassy colleague to costmetics saleswoman Sharon (who is based on Woolfstein).
The play has been a big hit in both Manchester and London, where it played to sold out audiences and plans are afoot to take it to Swansea, as well as bringing it back to London at some point.
Noar, who is also founder of the theatre company Impact Theatre, is also known for roles in Coronation Street and Brookside, as well as Hollyoaks, Casualty and Boon (where she met her first husband, actor Neil Morrissey). Here, she tells SJs Caroline Westbrook about directing plays, Turkish Jews and juggling family with career
What was it that attracted you to this particular production?
I really liked the script, I could say the lines from the heart, as any woman of my age can, and I thought it was very funny. When we originally did it we did it in Manchester which is my home town. Originally I wasnt directing it, but it went down very very well in Manchester, and I have my own theatre company and do a lot of directing, so I said it could go down really well in London as another trial run. Originally we had a few shoppers coming in, but this time there were a lot more characters, so its really grown and I think that makes it a lot more interesting. I think it appeals to women, its not terribly deep or anything, but its a fun night out, and the fashion show really lifts it.
How did the fashion show come about?
Well , because its based on Regina Woolfstein, who is trying to launch this fashion brand, in Manchester they did something on one of the performances on the opening night but it was very short. So I said lets expand that in London, and besides if we do it for charity we got Women Fighting Breast Cancer on board because they do a lot of charity events, usually fashion shows, and thats how that came about, it just grew from a very very small seed in Manchester and its expanded to that.
What made you choose the role of Jenny over Sharon?
When Binda Singh first gave me the script he told me to look at the part of Sharon but something about Jenny appealed to me I think it was the chance to swear as much as I like, which Im not allowed to do at home, having three children! There were a lot of people I know in the audience last night, who dont normally hear me swear, so the first time I let rip I could feel them move a bit further back from me!
How challenging is it to direct a play and star in it as well?
Oh, its really difficult and I would definitely think twice before doing it again. As a director youre looking after everybody and being the outside eye, watching whats going on and everything, and playing quite a major part in it, I cant watch myself, theres no way. So my first priority was as a director, not as an actress the only reason I agreed to do it was because I had done the part before, but its still really difficult. I had to get a friend to come in and have a look for me just to check I was going along the right lines. But it is really difficult.
Did your husband enjoy it?
He did enjoy it, he saw it in Manchester as well and he thinks its really grown. Some lines I think he was squirming over as well.
Your husband is Turkish what would you say is the difference between Turkish and UK Jewish culture?
Well, hes Sephardi and Im Ashkenazi I would say Im probably more frum than him but he is probably more culturally Jewish. We get along very well but there are certain points, for example at Pesach time, when he can have rice and Im like. Rice? We cant have that! Its what youre used to, isnt it?
How did you guys meet?
On a blind date! It was through my friend who is a Jewish actress.
How do you strike the right balance when it comes to featuring Jewish characters in a play?
Its interesting because in actual fact there was only one line about them being Jewish or about Sharon being Jewish I added another line because I thought there could be a couple. I didnt want to make it stereotypical because its about normal everyday people who just happen to be Jewish.
As someone who has been previously been married to a non-Jewish man, what do you think are the main differences between Jewish and non-Jewish men?
Just a basic understanding really. I have to say, my first husband (actor Neil Morrissey) was not Jewish, and I always kept a kosher home always, even when we were married, and my son through my first marriage is Jewish and he had a bris and everything, because I always was and felt very Jewish, and he was very understanding about that. Im not trying to insult him or anything like that, but with Jewish men theres an inbuilt understanding, because its your heritage, isnt it? And thats the main difference?
Are you planning to stay with the production when it moves to Wales?
Well, were talking about that at the moment. Im hoping to definitely direct it, Im not sure if Ill be in it, plus the fact it would work better if they had local celebrities, I think theyre trying to get some Swansea-ish celebrities to play the parts. We would love to come back to London because it has completely sold out. And were looking at doing it as a TV series Binda has already written many more episodes to continue the story.
So what else are you up to at the moment?
My own company are about to put on Summer Holiday, and thats going to be at the end of June, and Ive been busy rehearsing that. Its going to be fantastic, were going to get a big red bus on that stage. We are trying to raise money to buy a Sunshine coach with that production.
How do you juggle your career and family?
Its hard, the thing is I love my family and they are definitely my number one priority, however if I was just doing that I dont think I would be a good mum. I feel blessed in a way that I can keep working. This has been great for me, as its a 10 minute walk from my house, so everybodys happy. Except for my husband who doesnt get his dinner.
Do you miss Manchester?
I go there a lot because my mum and dad are there, but Ive been away from there a long time because I left to go to a ballet boarding school when I was 13. I love Manchester, its a great place and its changed a lot from when I lived there. I go there a lot, Ive still got friends there and everything.
Whats your Jewish background?
I went to a very frum primary school. I was the only person in my school with a normal name that you could pronounce. But then I just went to a normal grammer, but then I went to ballet school and I was one of three Jewish people there. And all these years Ive kept kosher. We go to Hendon Reform now, thats where we got married and thats where my son was Bar Mitzvahed. I love it there because I can sit with my family and the Rabbi is brilliant. When I came to London, my first marriage obviously wasnt Jewish, my brother was here in London and he went to Hendon Reform so I went with him because he was the only person I knew. At first I found it weird but you get used to it, and its a beautiful shul, stained-glass windows and all that. I really do like it, I dont think Id go back to Orthodox.