Liza Goddard Interview

Liza Goddard: A Woman of much Importance

Actor Liza Goddard tells us about starring in Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance and looks back on her incredible career.

“It’s a bit like a Poirot,” explain Liza Goddard. “You’ve got a big country house party bringing everyone together in one place… but there’s no murder! There is a bit of a mystery and a lot of comedy, though.

The veteran performer is excitedly telling me about A Woman of No Importance, the Oscar Wilde production she’s currently starring in, which, she beams, completes her Wilde collection. She’s previously played both Cecily and Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Mrs Cheveley in An Ideal Husband and both Mrs Erlynne and Lady Agatha in Lady Windermere’s Fan

A Woman of No Importance is, Goddard says, “Like all his plays, actually quite deep. I think people have the idea, a bit like with Alan Ayckbourn, that they’re just comedies, but there’s much more to them."

“A Woman of No Importance observes women and what happened in that society to a woman if she had a child out of wedlock. She would be reviled and the man would get off scot free… which actually happens a lot today, doesn’t it?

Goddard plays Lady Hunstanton, the hostess in Wilde’s party-set play. “She’s a terrible gossip,” laughs Goddard, “and a bit doolally as well.

While I would stop well short of placing any such labels on Goddard, the actor is more than happy to have a natter, is full of stories about former colleagues and doesn’t mind poking a bit of fun in her own direction.

She giggles her way through a recollection of starring opposite Coral Brown in Lady Windermere’s Fan when it was filmed for the BBC in 1972. Brown, she says, refused to wear a red costume designed by the great Cecil Beaton because “‘Dogs will think I’m a fire hydrant and wee on me!’ She was fabulous!

As we chat about taking the Classic Spring production around the country, Goddard chuckles, “I’m no longer a tour de force, more a force to tour.” Over the last couple of decades, she’s worked extensively in touring theatre, starring in, she says, “some fantastic shows that I wouldn’t have been asked to play at the National or in the West End.”

Goddard is now in her sixth decade in the entertainment industry. Since starting in the 60s, she has built an impressive career that includes children’s TV hits Skippy The Bush Kangaroo and Woof!, much-loved 80s charades panel show Give Us A Clue and pioneering drama focusing on the lives of a trio of women, Take Three Girls, the BBC’s first drama filmed in colour.

She is, though, very grounded about her own success: “I’ve never been one of those great big earners. I always just tried to make a living. It’s always been a case of finish one job and then wait to be offered another one. None of it’s planned, I’ve just been very fortunate. I’m still working and still loving it.

But if you ask her to name a career highlight, it isn’t the screen appearances for which she is best known that leap to mind, it is her projects with playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn, who she has worked with repeatedly. His name is one she refers to again and again. “Working for him is, for me, the best theatre experience, because it’s so enveloping. It’s a complete ensemble. He is such a great man that you all just want to do your best for him.

A Woman of No Importance is actually Goddard’s first job since January. After the death of her husband and hip replacement surgery last year, once the panto season had finished she devoted 2019 to clearing and trying to sell her Norfolk home. But she can’t wait to get back in front of a live audience: “There’s such excitement to [theatre]; the marvelous communication between you and the audience. It’s the only time that one performance will ever be seen.

What can audiences expect from the one performance of A Woman of No Importance they see? “They’ll come to see the wit – which is sadly lacking from a lot of modern plays – but they’ll also get beautiful set and costumes, interesting characters, lots of laughs and a few really heartrending moments. It’s just a damn good story.

Finally, Liza reminisces about her past performances at the Yvonne Arnaud: “I played the Yvonne Arnaud so many times when I lived in Farnham. In those days you were so lucky because you could do telly and then you could go and rehearse for two weeks and play for two weeks at the Yvonne Arnaud, so you could always fill in for four weeks between telly jobs. And you’d play parts in the theatre you’d never play on telly.”