Interview: Peter Ellis and Anita Parry of What Would Helen Mirren Do?

FLYERING. The scourge of the Fringe and the bane of every performer's life. However, when audiences are limited and there are more than 2000 other shows, it has to be done.

Why else would Peter Ellis, who played Chief Superintendent Brownlow in The Bill for 18 years, swap his Sun Hill beat for a session pounding George Street, enticing festivalgoers to see What Would Helen Mirren Do?, a laugh-out-loud comedy starring his wife Anita Parry, which he directed.

"It's hard ... you've got to get right in there," he says, adding that the Festival has grown hugely since he first visited as a student in 1953.

Written by Josie Melia, What Would Helen Mirren Do? is the story of Susan, a long-term supermarket checkout operator, who adopts Helen Mirren as her role model when offered promotion, with hilarious results. Parry brings ten different characters to life in the one-woman show.

Although they have worked together before - they met in a production of Educating Rita - Ellis has never directed his wife. "It was written specially for Anita," he says proudly, adding modestly, "I didn't really do much, just sort of said, 'Oh, don't do that dear.'"

Parry chips in, "Working with Peter was surprisin ... was great." "You nearly said surprisingly there," protests Ellis is mock outrage. They laugh. Parry continues, "Actually, it went well. Peter has worked a lot with Ray Cooney so he was quite forensic about the comedy and making it real, which I like."

Although Helen Mirren has yet to see the show, when it premiered in Brighton last year, she sent the company a crate of Champagne.

"On opening night, the venue said, 'You've got a crate of Champagne. I thought, 'How lovely of Peter... if a little extravagant, a flower would have sufficed.' But no, it was 12 bottles of very good Champagne from Helen Mirren, wishing us her best. We still have one bottle left to celebrate with at the end of this run."

As for the hours spent pounding the streets handing out fliers before the cork is popped on that bottle, well, it's what Helen Mirren would do... isn't it?

What Would Helen Mirren Do?, Hill Street Theatre, Hill Street, 7.25pm, until 22 August (not Tuesdays), 9, 0131-226 0000