You might think that someone with the experience and talent of Sandi Toksvig would be immune to opening night nerves.
But as The Guide caught up with her during the day before the opening night preview of her new play, Silver Lining, she admits: ‘I don’t know what to do with myself, it’s nerve-wracking.
‘As I speak they’re busy rehearsing. It’s hugely exciting. When you write a comedy, you rehearse and try and refine it, but what’s missing is the final character, as it were – the audience. You need them to come and define where the laughs are.
‘Of course I’m nervous, it’s my baby and I love the cast. I want them to have a good time and it’s really important what I’m doing – I care about it, I care about the people coming to the theatre and I care about creating wonderful parts for women to act, there’s a lot in it that matters to me.’
This new comedy by the writer, actor, presenter and political activist centres on a dark and stormy night in the upper day room of the Silver Retirement Home. With the storm floods rising and no rescue team in sight, five elderly ladies are faced with the sudden realisation that in order to survive they are going to have to do what they have done for their entire lives – do it themselves.
And Sandi has been hands-on during the rehearsal process. She describes a new play as an ‘organic thing’ which needs the audience feedback to make sure the laughs are there.
‘You’re working all the time – you just notice stuff in rehearsal that you couldn’t possibly know while you’re sitting at your desk. ‘
After a run of previews at The Rose Theatre In Kingston, the play moves here to the New Theatre Royal from the 15th.
Sandi wrote the play as a present for one of the cast – she won’t reveal who – as ‘she was bemoaning the lack parts for older women and that’s absolutely true. By the time you reach, I don’t know, 60-65 on TV or stage you’re playing either someone with Alzheimer’s or someone who’s dying, that’s pretty much your lot.
‘There’s been a lot of work done looking at how many parts there are for women in theatre, and women’s stories really aren’t being told very much, so this was an attempt to right that. We’ve got five fantastic actresses in their mature years – the oldest is 82 – and they’re fabulous.
It’s all part of my ongoing campaign for women’s equality and one of those things you have to do is not just march and make speeches you have to “do”, and this is me doingSandi Toksvig
‘It made me think about the fact that if women are in plays, it’s quite often not their stories being told and they’re on the peripheries of the action and I wanted this to be a piece in which it was their story.’
Sandi also sees it as complementing her activism. ‘It’s all part of my ongoing campaign for women’s equality and one of those things you have to do is not just march and make speeches you have to “do”, and this is me doing.’
As co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, she was invited to speak at the recent Women’s March in Trafalgar Square.
‘That was quite a big house, I have to say. I’ve spoken in Trafalgar Square before, but that was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen there.
‘We have to stand up for what’s right. It’s ridiculous that women still have to fight for equality, it’s mad, surely we would be done by now. I’m embarrassed for the next generation that the job’s still not done.
‘Every penny that I make from the play is going directly to the party, so it’s my political activism, but how marvellous is it to have political activism that makes you laugh as opposed to dour, boring political activism.’
This summer will see Sandi finish her five-year term as chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, but she’s also a patron of the NTR so the city is close to her heart.
‘I did a lot of fundraising for the theatre – I spent a lot of time standing on that stage telling people to give money, so it’s hugely exciting for me that this has all now come to fruition and my wonderful company will be stepping out on to the stage.
‘I’m passionate about Portsmouth, not just from a university point of view. I’ve spent a lot of time with wonderful people from the Royal Navy. I think it’s a town that has so much to offer and it’s really critical now that people have got this wonderful rejuvenated theatre, it’s really important that they go – it’s like the butchers in the high street , if you don’t use it, it will close down. Enjoying the live experience in a big room is a wonderful thing. It’s not the same experience as watching telly or a film – there’s something special about theatre.’
Aside from the play, she’s also been mentioned in the press as a favourite for the hosting role on Bake Off when it returns on Channel4.
‘Really?’ she claims ignorance. ‘Should I put money on me at the bookies? If you hear anything could you let me know..?’
To win a pair of tickets to Silver Lining on Wednesday, February 15, answer the following question: What is the name of the TV quiz show where Sandi Toksvig took over hosting duties from Stephen Fry?
E-mail your answer with your name, address and daytime telephone number, to email@example.com, or by post to: Silver Lining Competition, The News, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Western Road, Portsmouth, PO6 3EN.
Entries must be received by Tuesday, February 14.
* Silver Lining is at New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth from February 15 to 18. Tickets £15 to £23.
Doors 7.30pm every night and 2.30pm on the Thursday and Saturday. Go to newtheatreroyal.com