Josie Lawrence (born Wendy Lawrence; 6 June 1959) is a British comedienne and actress best known for her work with the Comedy Store Players improvisational troupe, the television series Whose Line Is It Anyway? and more recently her role as Manda Best in EastEnders.
Life and careerEdit
Josie Lawrence was born Wendy Lawrence in Old Hill. She has a brother, John, and sister, Janet, 10 years older who are twins. They were brought up in nearby Cradley Heath, where her father worked for British Leyland and her mother as a dinner lady. She says everyone in her family has a wicked, dry sense of humour. She knew she wanted to be an actress at the early age of 5 and by the time she was 16 she joined the Barlow Players in Oldbury.
Her first acting role was as a young boy in a production of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at the Half Moon Theatre. During the 1980s, she was also involved in a play called Passionaria at the Newcastle Playhouse, starring Denise Black and Kate McKenzie, and they later formed the jazz group Denise Black and the Kray Sisters.
Her work in comedy began as a result of starring in a Donmar Warehouse play called Songs For Stray Cats and hearing the audience invited to supply lines and ideas for improvisers appearing in after-show cabaret.
"I played a manic depressive Glaswegian in the play and I'd seenJim (Sweeney) on the circuit when I was a singer with Denise Black and The Kray Sisters. So I stayed behind and watched one night and then, because I knew Jim, I said could I try it because it looked brilliant and it was one of those things I found I could do. You suddenly find your little baby. After that I joined The Comedy Store Players and then this TV show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? came along."
In 1994-1996 Lawrence played Katharine in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Taming of the Shrew in both Stratford-upon-Avon and London, for which she received a Dame Peggy Ashcroft award for Best Actress.She also appeared in Faust and The Cherry Orchard and starred as Benedick in an all-female production of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe, having played Beatrice previously at Manchester's Royal Exchange. She later took over the lead role of Anna in the stage musical The King and I in London's West End, replacing Elaine Paige. In 2005, she appeared with Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie in the cult West End production of Wood'sAcorn Antiques: The Musical.
In April and May 2008, Lawrence took the lead role in Tom Stoppard's Hapgood at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and later at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in which she was a secret spymaster given the task of exposing a traitor who is leaking vital information to the Russians. In the same year, she co-directed The Time Step, a comedy about fantasies and talent contests, with Linda Marlow at the Edinburgh Festival.
Lawrence came to public attention as a regular guest on the Channel 4 improvisational comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? at its launch in 1988. A talented singer, Lawrence's speciality on Whose Line was her ability to improvise songs on the spot. She was the first female performer to regularly perform and featured on the show until 1997, which was the final UK series to be made in London. She also performed in two episodes of the American edition of the show in 1999.
In 1991, she had her own short-lived comedy series Josie, also on Channel 4. The next year she starred in Enchanted April a British remake of the 1935 film based on Elizabeth von Arnim's novel. Her other television work includes the comedy series Not with a Bang and Downwardly Mobile, and she is remembered for her performances as Maggie Costello in the cricketing comedy drama Outside Edge alongside Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn, for which she was awarded the Spectacle Wearer of the Year award in 1993. She went on to perform in Sealed with a Loving Kiss and Lunch in the Park as part of the Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson's... series on 16 February 1996 and 21 October 1997. She appeared in the 1999 made-for-TV movie The Flint Street Nativity as both Debbie Bennett and Debbie's mother. In 2001 she played Camilla in A Many Splintered Thing.
In 2006 she starred alongside Peter Davison in The Complete Guide to Parenting as Phoebe Huntley. She has also recently appeared in the BBC 1 drama series Robin Hood and as Mrs Jiniwin in the 2007 ITV adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop. She appeared in an episode of the 2007 E4 teen comedy/drama Skins, playing Liz Jenkins, estranged mother of Sid Jenkins, a role which she reprised in the second series.
Lawrence was in EastEnders from March 2009 to February 2010. She played Amanda Best, an old flame of Minty Peterson. She was featured with Meera Syal in a celebrity special of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? that aired on 31 January 2009.She has appeared as a guest on the panel show games QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
In 2010 she appeared in series 25, episode 3 of Casualty named The Chaos Theory. Lawrence played Mrs Janet Haines, head teacher of a school where sixteen children were admitted to the emergency department having taken LSD. Also in 2010 she played the part of Sandra, Tony's agent, in the 2010 British feature film version of Tony Hawks' best selling book Round Ireland with a Fridge that was released in September 2010 and was released on DVD in November 2010.
Lawrence starred in three series of the improvised comedy series The Masterson Inheritance from 1993 to 1995 on BBC Radio 4 alongside Paul Merton, Phelim McDermott, Caroline Quentin, Lee Simpson and Jim Sweeney. Each episode comprised a different time period, and the plots were improvised based on suggestions from the studio audience. One unaired episode was produced and narrated by Lawrence, but it was released on the internet by Jim Sweeney on his official site.
The BBC Radio 4 series The Lawrence Sweeney Mix aired from 27 February to 20 March 2007 and was described as "Josie Lawrence and Jim Sweeney create improvised sketches from audience suggestions". Series 2 began airing on 29 January 2008.
She starred in two other BBC Radio 4 comedy series: the science fiction comedy Married in 1996 and the dark comedy series Vent in 2006 as well as appearing in a Galton and Simpson Radio Playhouse 50th Anniversary recording ofClicquot et Fils alongside Richard Griffiths and Roger Lloyd Pack that originally aired on 29 December 1998.
Lawrence made her debut appearance in the long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just A Minute on 7 January 2008 and returned again in the following series.
Lawrence has lent her voice to several audiobooks, the majority of which were books for children. She has recorded several of the books in Roger Hargreaves' Little Miss series, namely, Bossy, Giggles, Trouble, Tiny, Sunshine, Naughty,Somersault and Neat and four of Jacqueline Wilson's books, Secrets, The Illustrated Mum, Bad Girls and The Bed and Breakfast Star. She has also recorded books from Emma Thomson's Felicity Wishes, Eric Hill's Spot the Dog andTony Bradman's Dilly the Dinosaur, as well as Philip Ridley's Mercedes Ice and Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom. For adults, Lawrence has recorded tapes of Rosie Thomas's Sun at Midnight, Lynee Truss's Going Loco and Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn.
In 2003 Lawrence spent eight months walking across China, Cuba, Peru and Tanzania for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and helped to raise over £550,000. She had to wear a knee brace throughout the trek because of damage to her anterior cruciate ligament.
In 2005 she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for Sunfield, a school for children with autism and complex learning needs, of which she is a patron. On 21 April 2008, she hosted a VIP-night performance of Hapgood at The Birmingham Rep in aid of Sunfield and raised a further £3,500 for the charity. She is also a supporter of the National Autistic Society's Make School Make Sense campaign. In 2009, Lawrence raised £25,000 for Sunfield by appearing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with Meera Syal.
Lawrence and actor Shane Richie participated in the final leg of the celebrity Around the World in 80 Days challenge to raise money for Children in Need 2009. They travelled from Memphis to Wilmington, North Carolina and then to London over 15 days.