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A Poem from a friend 

On Sunday the 4th, I went up North.

By train to London because there was a show on.

A few years ago, there was a virus, which was a very difficult time for us.

But with actors finding themselves with no work, our friend was not one to shirk.

Whilst stuck in the house from day to day, she thought, “I know, I’ll write a play!”

Having been likened to her subject, how could anyone object.

A one-woman play about Audrey Hepburn, would mean she had a lot of lines to learn.

In films she starred in quite an array, the first was “Roman Holiday”.

Co- starring the actor Gregory Peck,
all information she would have to double check!

So many films in which she’d seen her, another one was called “Sabrina”.

The character, the voice, and the look, you couldn’t get just from a book.

Singing Moon River and playing guitar, this little play will take her far.

This talented actor and go-getter couldn’t have done it any better.

We all came to watch her creation,
she quite rightly earned a standing ovation.

And now I’d like to say “Cheers!” and, thank her, that talented actor and playwright Helen Anker!


Gilda. Feb 2024

Trailer with reviews 


It is all too easy to remember Audrey Hepburn for the romance of Roman Holiday, in one of those magnificent frocks from My Fair Lady or that iconic publicity image for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Behind that glamour and fame lay a darker story, starting with growing up in war-torn Europe and working with the resistance movement. It makes Hepburn an almost perfect subject for a bio-piece, elevating it beyond a rags-to-riches or tears of a clown narrative.

Add to those advantages that the gamine (oh, how she must have tired of being described so!) Belgian-born actress had a turbulent private life with an aristocratic mother, an absentee Nazi-sympathising father and two husbands.

In lockdown, Helen Anker, who like Hepburn embarked on a career as a ballet dancer before moving across to embrace performance more widely, wrote The Essence Of Audrey, which has just had a fleeting three-performance run at The Jack Studio Theatre. Lucky you if you got to see it.

A longtime heavy smoker, Hepburn died of cancer aged 63, but there is a lot of life to fit into 60 minutes, and if there are moments that feel a little contrived, or the largely chronological narrative feels rather like a list of milestones being ticked off, these are few in number and there is never any doubt that we are hearing Audrey’s story on her terms.

On her personal life, this Audrey is more candid about the deprivations and hardships of her early life than she is on her two failed marriages, the focus of which stays more on the romantic, swept away aspects than the harsh realities, or her own dalliances.

Anker cleverly also draws from the periphery of Hepburn’s life, with Hollywood gossip about how petty and obnoxious Humphrey Bogart was on the set of romcom Sabrina, her trumped-up rivalry with Julie Andrews over My Fair Lady and her admiration for Givenchy with whose help her propulsion to status of fashion icon was assured.

I inwardly cringed at the emetic “Moon River” with struggled guitar accompaniment, but the multi-award-winning song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s won favour and applause from Thursday’s audience, and who am I to begrudge that.

Anker’s performance captures the essence of Audrey, her look, intonation and balletic grace, but also her frailty, her love of family and children and the importance of finding happiness and inner tranquillity in her relationship with Rob Wolders.

It might be more appealing, or even just nostalgic, to associate Audrey Hepburn with that little black Givenchy dress and Tiffany necklace, or on the back of that Vespa with a gorgeous Gregory Peck, or perhaps her humanitarian work, but as Anker’s play shows, there was much more to her than that.

The Essence Of Audrey serves to remind us how much we miss if we fail to glance behind the cinematic glamour to see the ordinary people with insecurities and dreams like the rest of us.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti at Brockley Jack Studio 15th March 2024

Fairy Powered Productions ****

Helen Anker’s enthralling play looks beyond the iconic imagery of that black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’sand explores the real person beneath the gamine perfection.

Set in Audrey’s Swiss home – a backdrop of a cosy book filled room with an armchair, mannequins displaying gowns from her films, stacked vintage suitcases and a guitar – artefacts from her film career are being auctioned off to raise funds for UNICEF. The guest speaker hasn’t arrived, so Audrey begins talking about her life and career while we wait for his arrival.

Helen Anker’s physical resemblance to Hepburn (they both trained as ballet dancers) and her wonderful grasp of Hepburn’s vocal rhythms and tone add a little magic to her heartfelt performance. Anker’s Audrey swigs wine when she gets nervous, dances gleefully across the room as she shows off her gowns, and fumbles over words when she touches upon memories that are hard to bear. Director Michael Vivian ensures Anker’s physicality is used effectively as she moves around the small stage, dancing, singing and sipping her wine.

With such an interesting and full life, it is hard to stop a 65-minute monologue from becoming a checklist of facts, but Anker’s writing and performance creates the atmosphere of someone gradually relaxing into a public searching through and sharing of their memories and the emotions they evoke. Hepburn’s childhood and survival during WW2 in Holland had an enormous impact on her physical and emotional health, and Anker acknowledges this throughout, as well as her determination to prevent other children suffering leading her to work with UNICEF. Hepburn’s career sems to have been a string of good luck and coincidences landing her amazing roles which she then threw herself into and did her best to cope with any stress involved. Hepburn’s marriages and struggles to have children – with one shocking anecdote about 1960’s Hollywood’s disregard for the safety of actors – are considered candidly, there is juicy gossip about famous actors and directors, and sheer joy talking about her friendship with Givenchy. The essence of Audrey, the troubled but determined woman behind the public façade, is revealed in a natural and affectionate manner that had the audience rapt.

A fascinating and heartwarming exploration of an icon that is unmissable. Helen Anker has created that S’wonderful.

Details of future tour dates available here:

Reviewed by Claire Roderick at Brockley Jack 16th March 2024

Reviews gate ****

“Audrey Hepburn brought vividly to life.”


Helen Anker has crafted a splendid one woman play in which Audrey Hepburn talks to an audience who have come to her home in Switzerland to see her collection of gowns from some her greatest roles. It is a fund raising event for UNICEF for which she was an Ambassador, a role she took very seriously. The promised host is late and Audrey must entertain the visitors. Anker conjures up the woman very well indeed, looks enough like her to be credible, has stories to tell about her past and even manages to sing Moon River while playing the guitar sounding just like the real thing. It starts with her childhood in Holland during Nazi occupation, life with a domineering mother, without a father who left them when she was six or seven and how she trained to be a ballerina. Eventually they got to London, Marie Rambert offered her a scholarship but the privations of war meant she did not have the stamina and at 5ft 7” was just too tall. But she did have a career dancing in West End shows, secured some bit parts in British films and was discovered by Colette, who decided she was Gigi and that led to Broadway and to her first film – Roman Holiday and an Oscar. After that there is a string of hit movies for years in most of which she was dressed by Givenchy and became a style icon as well as an accomplished until something starts to go wrong and she takes a break from filming for several years. We get the marriages to Mel Ferrer, to Andrea Dotti, the attempts to have children – she has a son by each of her husbands – and how she found refuge from the world of stardom in her house in Switzerland where she spent the last years of her life with her partner Robert Wolders. An hour in Anker’s company passes delightfully, her performance is pitch perfect, and if there was more to Hepburn then Hepburn is not telling. And there was. Her will left her estate to her two sons to be divided equally but that led to all sorts of trouble – however Audrey was not to know. Anker ends by urging her audience to contribute to UNICEF which seems the perfect ending to a story told from Audrey’s point of view.

Review: William Russell 

‘Essence of Audrey’ appraisal...

I broke a sixteen month theatre drought to see my friend, Helen Anker’s one-woman show on Audrey Hepburn. ‘The Essence of Audrey’. Conceived & written in lockdown, it’s a meticulously researched labour of love on the life & career of the late actress. With Helen’s expert dance ability & some subtle vocalizing, she became the great star with a warts & all exposure on her early years of growing up in war-torn Europe then her short but significant stage career which led to her iconic & well-deserved Oscar-winning role in ‘Roman Holiday’. The attractive setting & projections added hugely to the atmosphere & her irrepressible humour often disguising her sad anguish at her failings was ultimately very moving. It is a notable achievement.  I’m so proud of my friend & wish her continued success with this remarkable enterprise & all her future ventures.

Jody Hall 2021

'Essence of Audrey' reapraisal 2024.

I first experienced Helen Anker's 'The Essence of Audrey' at the Above the Stag in the summer of 2021 where she delivered her meticulously researched entertainment with such confidence & affection which left me with a warm afterglow which still lingers.  On hearing she was performing the work again, I was happy to revisit my friend's moving tribute to a remarkable woman who more than thirty years after her death is still an inspiration not just through her unforgettable screen roles but also her many worthy charitable enterprises. The darker space at the Union lacks the cabaret atmosphere of the Vauxhall venue & I did miss the colourful cyclorama & projections of  the star's idyllic retreat in Switzerland but her haunting reminiscences: survivng the wartime Dutch occupation, the less than satisfactory reunion with her estranged father, her spinal accident  on the Western, 'The Unforgiven' & the bitter disappointment of  'My Fair Lady' were heart-rending & resonated even stronger in the Union's austere setting. Some brighter memories - proudly showing off her movie spoils (legendary gowns from French couturier, Hubert de Givenche) & her elegant vocal & body language recalling some of the most iconic players from the Golden Age were sheer delight. She has honed her material & delved even deeper into her ever fascinating subject presenting a more complex & beguiling character than even before. I was totally transported. Helen deserves to be mentioned with that rare group of monologists - Roy Dotrice, Emilyn Williams & Ruth Draper.

Jody Hall 2024

The Spy in the Stalls ****

Helen Anker, in her one woman show – “The Essence of Audrey” – goes some way towards finding the heart. She introduces us to Hepburn at the stage in her life when her humanitarian work is taking precedence over everything else. We are probably somewhere in the late seventies or early eighties. Her formidable acting career is largely behind her, and she is hosting a private auction of her film memorabilia at her Swiss home, to which we – the audience – are invited. The guest of honour cannot attend, however, so while a replacement is found, Audrey is left alone to while away the time, and entertain us with anecdotes and memories.

A lace covering is draped over the piano in the corner, while an acoustic guitar sits centre stage. Old packing cases are piled up, teasing us with the promise of reminiscences to be revealed. And, of course, a mannequin wearing ‘that’ dress. Hepburn herself is dressed casually. Sensibly and comfortable, yet Anker instantly evokes the discomfort that lies beneath. Nervous and humble, she captures the self-deprecation of a movie star who once confessed that “by all laws of logic, should never have made it”.

There is a touch of genuine nervousness in Anker’s performance, as though the task has been thrust upon her a little too soon. But it is soon swept aside as she warms to the themes and wins us over with her charm and charisma. Anker pitches the tone just right, aided by a notable physical resemblance to Hepburn, and moreover by the voice. Ninety minutes is a long time to maintain her idiosyncratic accent, but Anker is spot on with the blend of refined elegance that sounds British with a continental edge; mixed with a touch of transatlantic exoticism.

It is Anker’s performance that carries the show. She struggles occasionally under the weight of the material, which is unquestionably fact-heavy and a little light on imagination and poetic licence. Often resembling a compendium, it never strays too far from common knowledge, with the bulk of the show focusing on the movies and marriages. There are glimpses of the darker side; the aristocratic yet troubled childhood, her contribution to the Dutch resistance during WWII; her father’s estrangement and imprisonment as an enemy of the state, the loss of the family fortune. But too soon we are led back to the familiar. It must be said, however, that Anker dresses the open secrets alluringly – befitting of the enigma that is Audrey.

Most people, when they picture Audrey Hepburn, call to mind the black, sleeveless sheath dress, large tortoiseshell sunglasses, and the Tiffany necklace of strands of pearls. It is, of course, one of the most potent fashion moments in movie history. But Hepburn would have been the first to debunk the myth, and Anker reinforces it by delving behind her mesmeric eyes. She shows us the modesty, the fact that Hepburn spent most of her life doing things she wasn’t prepared for, then tried like mad just to cope.

There is a lot crammed into the show, and we are given many gentle reminders of the reluctant icon. There are many wonderful flavours, but not quite that secret ingredient we were expecting. The “Essence of Audrey” might still elude us, but the spirit is very much alive in Helen Anker’s sympathetic performance.

Reviewer: Jonathan Evans 4th February 2024

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