WITH roles in two of Britain’s biggest television series, The Bill and EastEnders, actress Roberta Taylor was watched by millions of viewers each week.
However, as she sets off on a busy tour of Scotland with Inverness-based theatre company Dogstar’s new play The Baroness, she seems happy enough to have left those characters — EastEnders' Irene and The Bill’s Inspector Gina Gold — and that phase of her career behind her.
"It was a job and it was fun, but now onwards," she said.
"I didn’t stay very long in EastEnders because I know that I haven’t got the capacity to keep discovering new things about the character and I only stayed on The Bill as long as I did — not that I was unhappy — but I was writing two books at the time and that was how I was earning my living. I could work out, around my ‘Bill’ timetable, how to do these two books, and I left long before the programme got axed."
Taylor’s previous two books, one a memoir of growing up in the real East End and the other a novel set in 1960s London, were both bestsellers and she revealed she is working on a third book.
Work on that second novel is being put on hold while she goes on tour with The Baroness, the first English translation of the hit Danish play.
This does not mean she will not be doing any writing, however.
Taylor plans on keeping a diary of the tour which begins in Stornoway this weekend and then continues around the country, taking in shows in Ullapool, Strathpeffer and Inverness, as well as more island performances on Mull and Bute and ranging from Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre to a village hall on the Black Isle.
"That’s why I did it — because it was peculiar," she said.
"First, I fell in love with the play, but then I thought it would be fabulous to see bits of Scotland that I’ve not seen and just move from place to place.
"It makes the play hopefully different each night because you are in a different building all the time."
Native Londoner though she is, Taylor’s relationship with Scotland goes right back to the beginning of her acting career.
"As soon as I came out of drama school, I went up to Glasgow to the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow where I had longed to go and I went backwards and forwards there for the next 10 odd years," she said.
"I got my education there in European theatre."
The Citz was obviously a hotbed of talent. Among Taylor’s contemporaries were such future stars of stage and screen as Rupert Everett, Gary Oldman and Ciarán Hinds (Munich, Game of Thrones).
"I’m the only actor you never heard of," she laughed.
"All the others became film stars.
"But it was wonderful fun and when I was in Edinburgh, some of my old muckers turned up there. It was great. We got to sit on a carpet and talk about old times in Glasgow and all the wonderful naughtiness that we got up to."
Though this weekend’s Stornoway performance will be the first chance for a British audience to see The Baroness, Thor Bjorn Krebs’ play has already been a major hit in its native Denmark, where one national newspaper hailed it as the play of the year.
It tells the true story of writer Karen Blixen, best known in Britain for her autobiographical book Out of Africa, and her relationship with up and coming poet Thorkild Bjornvig, played by Ewan Donald.
Taylor’s version of Blixen, however, is very different from the version played by Meryl Streep who romanced dashing Robert Redford in the movie version of Out of Africa.
"The role’s a gift — if I can get it right," Taylor laughed.
"She has syphilis, she’s 62 and she’s a bit of a misfit, but a great storyteller. Once her African life fell to pieces, she came back to Denmark, but because of her syphilis, she couldn’t have any romantic life. But she loved manipulating and having power over young men to try and make them better than they are. That’s why it’s subtitled ‘Karen Blixen’s last affair’. Even though it’s not a sexual affair, it is a great kind of passion.
"She wants him to be more honest with himself and by being more honest, be a great artist. But there’s a price to pay for that."
Coincidentally, the play also seems to have a thematic link to the new novel Taylor is working on.
"Funnily enough, that will be about an older woman and a younger man, and that’s been in my head for a year and a half," she added.
"Matthew Zajac, our director, has also had his first book just come out (the autobiographical Tailor of Inverness) and we talked about how writing absolutely helps your acting and acting helps your writing.
"Actors know what doesn’t sound like human speech, so actors tend to be rather good at dialogue."
• The Baroness by Thor Bjorn Krebs, starring Roberta Taylor, Ewan Donald and Romana Abercromby, and directed by Matthew Zajac.
A preview performance takes place at An Lanntair, Stornoway, today, followed by the play’s official UK premiere tomorrow at 8pm.
Other dates on the Scottish tour include:
Tuesday 3rd September, Strathpeffer Pavilion; Wednesday 4th September, Macphail Centre, Ullapool; Thursday 5th September, Lyth Arts Centre, Caithness; Saturday 14th September, Tullynessle Hall, Alford; Tuesday 17th September, Resolis Memorial Hall, Balblair, Black Isle; Wednesday 18th September, Universal Hall, Findhorn; Thursday 19the September, Gordonstoun School, by Elgin; Friday 20th and Saturday 21st September Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. The tour finishes at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.