Lara looks for her beau in Hackney

By Lauren Krotosky - Wednesday 23rd 2008f April 2008

Lara Pulver

"I didn't used to tell people I was Jewish," says award-winning actress Lara Pulver. "But two years ago, I managed to bag the Shiksa Goddess role at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Anyway, it came out that I was Jewish but they didn't believe me because they said I played the character so well! You can play the card if you need to."

Putting her hand to whatever her role dictates has become second nature for Lara, who is about to star in James Sherman’s romantic comedy Beau Jest at the Hackney Empire. Her latest character, schoolteacher Sarah Goldman, finds herself in a bit of a pickle when after doing her utmost to please her parents, she invents a boyfriend that she believes will be the man of her mother’s dreams. When her parents insist on meeting the man, Sarah hires Bob, an actor, to pretend to be her beau. Although the plan works flawlessly for a time, a combination of hilarious situations leads to their lives being irrevocably changed.

“It’s a six-hander play about an everyday normal Jewish family in Chicago in the 1980s,” says Lara. “Sarah is looking for the love of her life, but ends up dating a non-Jewish guy she knows her parents won’t approve of. I am sure many of us can identify with that. It is a very funny, heartwarming comedy with deeper undertones. She creates the perfect beau and gets him from an agency. It is played out in comedy, with twists and turns along the way, and is very much of the American style that we have seen in sitcoms such as Will and Grace and Friends.”

The play, which has so far been described as “very funny… the well crafted play has a lot to say about nuclear families of any ethnic persuasion” and “hilarious... Sherman wonderfully blends farce with genuine insight,” has an all-star cast including Adam Rayner (Mistresses and Line of Beauty), Sue Kelvin (Fiddler on the Roof at the Savoy and Sit and Shiver at the Hackney Empire), Alexander Giles, Jack Chissick and Alex Hardy.

Southeast Londoner Lara, 27, says Beau Jest appealed to her because “it is a great piece of writing – you could read it and be in stitches.” She was also excited about the prospect of performing at the Hackney Empire, because although her father is from the area, it was one of the theatres she was yet to conquer. And after already starring as Lucille in Parade at the Donmar Warehouse, for which she subsequently received an Olivier Award for Best Actress, she has well and truly been put on the map. “Parade is one of the highlights of my career so far. Working at a prestigious venue like the Donmar with Rob Ashford was amazing,” she recalls. “It was a dream six months.”

The actress, who admits that she was “a child with boundless energy who would often use the phrase ‘Mum, I’m bored!’” demonstrated a passion for the arts from an early age. At the tender age of 13, she successfully auditioned for the National Youth Music Theatre, one of Britain’s best youth groups, sponsored by Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Princes Trust. She then landed a key role in Pendragon, a musical about the legend of King Arthur. In 1994, the play travelled to the George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, winning a Scotsman Fringe First Festival Award. And from Edinburgh, it went even further afield – this time to Hong Kong and New York. “I made my Broadway debut at 14!” she laughs.

And if she hadn’t have pursued an acting career? “I would have most probably become a councillor or a psychologist,” she says. “I have been getting into the psychology of life recently; you analyse every emotion going as an actress. I am very open and flexible as a person. It takes a lot to throw me off. I am versatile – not much fazes me. I also owe a great deal of gratitude to my husband, who is always supporting me. We got married in December.”

As well as her other half, Lara says she is “in awe of Helen Mirren for her longevity and wise decisions.” Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the actress, and other British greats for that matter, she has just been in New York discussing the possibility of doing a piece on Broadway, but says that it is very early days. “I just love to dip my toe in every pool,” she muses. “Variety and challenge are what keep actors going.”

Beau Jest is showing at the Hackney Empire from 7 May-1 June. Box Office: 020 8985 2424.