SHE is best known as a singer, performing at Royal Variety performances and even the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday celebration. But you may also recognise Anita Harris from her more playful acting past – in the iconic Carry On films.

Anita starred alongside Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and the gang in Follow That Camel and Carry On Doctor.

This week she is on stage at the New Theatre Oxford for its award-winning production of Cabaret.

Anita plays landlady Fraulein Schneider in the musical, which is set in a Berlin nightclub in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Nazis.

It sees dancer Sally Bowles arriving at the Kit Kat Klub and taking a room at Fraulein Schneider’s guesthouse.

“It’s a very strong story, set in a Germany where an undercurrent of bad feeling is beginning to grow,” she says of the show – which runs at the George Street venue until Saturday.

“People are beginning to feel that something is not right,” she goes on. “The state of Berlin at this period, between the wars, is pretending that everything is good, but underneath this dark river is flowing that is not at all clean.”

“Sally comes from England to get any sort of work she can in show business. She finds it at the Kit Kat Klub, where you’ve got this glorious, vivacious energetic music and dancing, but there too is an undercurrent of lasciviousness, of the wrong clientele, of everything becoming a little bit black.

And what kind of character is Fraulein Schneider?

“Ah, dear old Fraulein Schneider. She comes from a well-bred family, but her life has changed dramatically. She is a very wise woman but she’s also very blinkered. She doesn’t want to know what is really going on. She sees all and then puts the shutters down when she doesn’t want to show she’s aware of the truth. One of her paying guests is Herr Schultz, who she falls in love with. But there’s a huge spanner thrown into the works; the fact he’s Jewish and we’re going into Nazi Germany. The important thing is her strength against all odds. She has to be very strong, but her steeliness is a front because she’s an old softy really, especially when it comes to Herr Schultz.”

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The show, for which choreographer Javier de Frutos won an Olivier Award, combines the energy of the Oscar-winning film starring Liza Minnelli with a darker edge.

“Cabaret is so cleverly written,” she says. “The music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb are delicious in their craftsmanship, their sorrow and their lightness. The last scene is deeper than anything I’ve ever been involved in. It just says ‘This is what happened and please let it never happen again’. The trueness of the production is wonderful. There is sadness, but there is also huge joy, a lot of laughter and lots of wonderful lyrics, music and talent.”

That talent includes National Theatre director, Rufus Norris and actors Kara Lily Hayworth, as Sally Bowles, and former EastEnders star John Partridge, who plays the ‘Emcee’.

Although the piece was written more than 50 years ago, she insists it is still relevant today.

Banbury Cake:

“I think it is even more relevant than ever. It touches the audience in a million ways. Our world doesn’t know where it’s going right now. I just pray that it will lighten and come out of this dirge of fear, worry and aggression. There is so much aggression now; when you see it in a theatre production, so strongly portrayed, it can’t not get into people’s souls.”

It is, she admits, all very different to her earlier career – which also saw her dancing in Las Vegas, performing with Dusty Springfield and touring with the Cliff Adams Singers – as well as those cheeky Carry On films. And she looks back fondly on the experiences.

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“The best thing about it is the people that I have worked with. The first one that comes to mind is Harry Secombe. I did eight months at the London Palladium with him – we did two shows a night, three on a Saturday. At the end of that he said, ‘I’m doing some shows for the Combined Services Entertainments I’d love you to come with me’, so I ended up doing 12 tours with him, going to Cyprus, Germany and Borneo.

“At one, we arrived and the boys from the army were building a stage for us to perform on that night. These experiences you can’t ever forget.

“There was another moment with Harry at a benevolent show for the Royal Family. At the end of it the curtain came down and Her Majesty the Queen Mother came on stage and spoke to everybody. These moments still ring in your ears and live in your heart. And they should do, because they’re precious.

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And does she have any advice?

“I have this word ‘Believe’, which I got from a wonderful director called Pauline Grant. She was an iron butterfly of a woman.

“She told me: ‘Anita, whatever you do in life just remember that if you believe, the audience and your company will believe. Keep that word in your soul’.

“I’ve carried that with me always.”

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