Some people might consider retirement at 92, but not actress Thelma Ruby. She’s in Jack Dee’s new sitcom Bad Move, she was recently named Oldie of the Year and next she’s performing as Golda Meir in a pub theatre.
Momma Golda tells the story of Meir’s life from the age of six to 75. Ruby, who lives in Wimbledon, explains how the show came about. “I married late — age 45 — and I was living in Israel with my husband Peter Frye. A South African friend of mine called me as he was directing a play about Golda Meir in South Africa and his Israeli actress had pulled out at the last minute. He desperately needed a stand in. My husband convinced me to do it.
“I went off to meet Golda Meir in her simple bungalow. She made tea. I remember that she said to me ‘I want you to do me a favour. I saw Anne Bancroft play my character on Broadway — but she stooped. I don’t stoop!’ To be honest, I was more worried about the fact that she smoked like a trooper and I don’t smoke.”
Following successful performances in South Africa, Ruby was approached to create a one- woman show about Golda. However, after discussions with her husband, they decided, with permission from William Gibson, the original playwright, to adapt the original play into a two-hander.
As her husband was embarking on a year’s sabbatical from the Faculty of Arts at the Hebrew University, it was the perfect time to write their play. “We renamed it Momma Golda, and performed all over the world — Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Soviet Union, rehearsing in airports and hotels as we went along.” Ruby wouldn’t perform it in Israel, though. “There is a lot of bad feeling towards Golda Meir there because of her role in the Yom Kippur war. And although I believe I am nothing like her, I’m a much softer person, I do admire her and I am sorry that she never saw me perform the play.”
What is the secret to her long career? “I am lucky enough to have good health, I swim, I have a weekly singing lesson. I have good friends and I keep up my Jewish activities. I am a member of two synagogues. I try to enjoy life and to brush off bad things.”
Momma Golda, is at The Kings Head Theatre, Islington on October 8.
It will also be on at the Central Synagogue on November 26, in aid of two charities