AL PILLAY has been to Edinburgh twice before. The first time was in 1986. Then, as Lana Pellay, it was to promote the Stock, Aitken and Waterman hit Pistol In My Pocket. In 1994, Pillay returned, driven by an urge to experience the Festival as an audience member.
“This time around I’m looking forward to meeting local people and hoping they all become friends of Dorothy,” says the 52-year-old performer, who TV audiences might also remember from Channel 4’s 80s Comic Strip Presents . . . series – then Pillay was credited as Alan Pellay.
The Dorothy she refers to is singer Dorothy Squires, one time wife of Roger Moore. Pillay plays her in Dorothy Squires: Mrs Roger Moore, currently playing at the Gilded Balloon. It’s either inspired or confused casting.
“Musical theatre is far from what it purports to be, it is money for old rope, very conservative, full of gender polarisations, non-inclusive and jam-packed with tired old clichés,” says the performer. “Underneath its veneer of respectability lies something else. So it’s a brave new world casting a non-white, non-gender specific performer to play a brilliant, five-foot white Welsh diva – in fact the prototype diva. Dorothy’s story was a riches-to-rags journey: she married Roger Moore, The Saint, later to be James Bond, and to say her life was turbulent would be an understatement.”
Pillay was familiar with Squires’ story before accepting the role, which was written with her in mind.
“I know the genesis of Dorothy: as a little kid, born and bred in Grimsby town by the docks, my whole cultural soundtrack was Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee and Dorothy Squires. From a very tender age she was a signpost on the road to Damascus for me. It was always an event for me when she came on the TV or radio – quite mesmerising in the way she inhabited the material. By that, I mean it was like she powerfully bit chunks out of the songs and felt every nuance, her ability to express took a lot of beating. Not even Bassey could surpass the Squires magic in my mind – or the outfits – wow. She was a genius talent as a musical composer, also a huge recording artiste outselling Judy Garland and Peggy Lee. She was just an incredible force of nature.”
Pillay believes that the play, written by Richard Stirling, is a must for any fan of Squires. “I do think I am doing the best work of my life right now,” she says. “Dorothy Squires: Mrs Roger Moore requires committed involvement. This is a fast-paced, well written and directed [by Stewart Nicholls] biographic play with live music and an excellent supporting cast including Austin Staton, Chris Palmer, Adam Anderson and James Doughty.”
She adds, “Nothing surprises me about Dorothy. I know and knew quite a lot of people who were friends of Dot’s and without exception they said she could be a real white-knuckle ride, but she had a heart so big and made of platinum gold.”
Dorothy Squires: Mrs Roger Moore, Gilded Balloon, Teviot, until August 27, 12.45pm, £10, www.edfringe.com