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60 Seconds with Bafta-winning star of W1A Monica Dolan

What’s your play, The B*easts about?

It’s a storytelling piece about the pornification of culture and how that’s affecting children. It’s told from the perspective of someone you might not expect.

Sounds a bit mysterious…

I want people to come but I also want to preserve the audience’s experience so I’m not revealing too much as there are twists and turns.

And what’s the asterisk in the title about?

When I was growing up in theatre some of the plays had asterisks in, such as Shopping and F***ing by Mark Ravenhill — that had a good few asterisks. It’s a nod to those plays. Someone at the theatre said I was saying something interesting about censorship — I didn’t realise I was, I just thought I was having a bit of mischief. We don’t use asterisks much any more so it draws more attention to the word.

Asterisky business: Mark Ravenhill

You performed it in Edinburgh. Had you done a one-woman show before?

No, I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve been going to the Edinburgh Festival since I was 14 as a punter but not a performer. So I thought I should get a bit of courage and get up there and tell this story — it felt like the right place. I didn’t really know what the piece was until I went into the bar afterwards and saw people’s faces.

Were there looks of horror?

They were my friends, so I think they were happy I got through it, as I dried for 30 seconds, but there were looks of intrigue. People talked about the themes straight away, which is exactly what I wanted. It’s the first thing I’ve written that’s seen the light of day. If you want to write something for TV it’s a very long process, so Edinburgh was the right place to try it out.

I didn’t really know what the piece was until I went into the bar afterwards and saw people’s faces

You must feel a big sense of achievement?

Edinburgh’s a bumpy ride for anyone so I’m delighted I got through that. It was full every night and people were queuing around the block. You’re lucky if anyone comes to your show up there.

Are all the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ in W1A scripted?

Absolutely. It’s a highly scripted piece. And we’re quite strict with each other. When the cameras are set up we’ll go through the lines over and over again. If it’s not quite happening [co-star] Hugh Bonneville will say, ‘Come on, we’re not quite singing, guys.’ But every ‘right’ and ‘hurrah’ is in there. John Morton is a genius comedy writer. So we do ourselves favours if we respect the script — it sounds right and it’s easier to learn than if you try to approximate it. John’s got an exceptional ear for how people speak.

Are the scripts long?

When I did the last series of W1A I was also doing Strike: The Silkworm. The assistant director looked at the number of pages we were doing a day on W1A and couldn’t believe it. He asked how we could do 20 pages a day. It’s because a lot of the lines are ‘right’ or ‘hurrah’.

Comedy co-star: Hugh Bonneville PICTURES: REX/GETTY

You won a Bafta for playing Rose West in Appropriate Adult. Did you get any insight into why she did what she did?

I didn’t, in all honesty. There was a lot of material available — ITV sent me a box of books for research. I also got in touch with her solicitor and got a transcript of the court case. I read around it as much as I could but, other than that, I just tried to use the script and my imagination and looked at her behaviour. That’s all you can do, a lot of the time. You need to look at their behaviour and then do it. Appropriate Adult was taken from the time Fred and Rosemary West were arrested, so you didn’t see them together and it was about what happened once they were in the legal system and not before.

Did you learn anything about her?

One thing I did gather about her was that she really didn’t like being alone. So when Fred was on remand and the children were taken away she had dogs and couldn’t be on her own — which I thought was interesting. But really it’s about looking at behaviour, doing it and wondering why someone would do that and where it comes from.

What else have you got lined up?

Auditioning and more writing. My play has been optioned for TV so now I just have to try to write it. It’s been extraordinary. I’d say to anyone if they’ve got an idea and want to try it, just give it a go because you never know what’s going to happen.

Dolan stars in The B*easts at London’s Bush Theatre from February 12 to March 3,