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No holds Bard for Dannii; Never one to shy away from controversy, Ms Minogue's latest guise as Lady Macbeth is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

"MY character is very ... sexually ... manipulating to get what she wants," says Dannii Minogue.

She's almost hissing each word - possibly out of embarrassment, perhaps because she's choosing her words with caution, or simply for dramatic effect.

She isn't talking about herself - although it wouldn't be a bad description of a 16- year career which has relied heavily on the `if you've got it, flaunt it' ethos - she's discussing the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe production, Journey To Macbeth, in which she will play Lady Macbeth.

Eyebrows have been raised at this courageous piece of casting - even though the company responsible, Theatrum Botanicum, is notorious for its controversy- courting tactics - but Dannii isn't worried about the critics.

Even hurtful comments like, "What next, Noel Edmonds as King Lear?" seem to bounce off her like bullets bounce off Superman.

"I don't really care," she says. "If people want to be so limited in their ideas, I'm not going to try and change them. I can't please everyone and I've never tried to. I just want to do things that make me happy and I get a kick out of. I don't want to sit at home thinking, `Oh, people might not like it so I better not do it.' I'd never have left Australia if I'd thought like that."

If Dannii sounds defensive, it's hardly surprising.

Now 27, she has spent the past 10 years being built up and knocked down - knocked down, mainly - by the press and public.

But she keeps coming back. She's had varying levels of success as an actress (in Home And Away), a TV presenter (on the Big Breakfast and Electric Circus), a singer (13 top 40 hits and three albums).

And if you thought you hadn't seen much of her in the past year, it's because she's been back Down Under playing Rizzo in Grease: The Musical, adding dancing to her list of talents.

You've got to admire her versatility almost as much as her stubborn refusal to admit defeat.

It's been a tough ride for Dannii. She's had to cope with being viewed as Kylie's dumpier little sister, although in Australia she was a star at 11, before her big sister even dreamed of taking a part in Neighbours.

Dannii denies there's any rivalry between them, although in the past she's admitted to the strain of cruel comparison.

"I don't feel any pressure to live up to Kylie," she says. "Everyone else puts that pressure on because people constantly compare us. From our perspective there's no competitiveness. I don't compete with Kylie."

Perhaps to prove the point, the Minogues recently did their first magazine photo- shoot together, appearing on the cover of Esquire magazine. "It just seemed like a good thing to do," says Dannii. "Just to surprise people.

"It would have been so obvious if we'd done it years ago. But now people can see we have our own careers and we do our own things, but, yeah, we happen to be sisters."

The first thing you notice when you meet Dannii is that she's a lot prettier than any photograph has suggested. The second is that she looks a lot more like Kylie than you expected. . The third is how articulate she is.

Dannii can be many things, but she's no bimbo.

This is most apparent when she discusses her upcoming Lady Macbeth role. She is genuinely excited about this challenge and flattered at the chance to work with the Theatrum Botanicum, winners of five Scotsman Fringe First awards.

"The director, Toby Gough, is outrageous," says Dannii. "He wants to do something totally off the the wall. Something new and exciting. It's going to be totally wild - and really good for people who maybe wouldn't normally go to see Shakespeare.

"With this production it's really brought to you and you're involved."

She's not joking. The production, which includes Ukrainian stilt-walkers and a `trance' music soundtrack, opens in Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens on Friday and takes the form of a walk through the gardens with all manner of bizarre goings- on.

"I wouldn't recommend it for the very old or young," says director Toby Gough. "It's going to be fairly explicit."

Will there be nudity?

"That depends on the weather. I'm sure most of the cast aren't averse to getting their kit off - but you know, 9.30 in the evening, outdoors in Edinburgh, it can get a bit chilly."

Dannii talks with relish about the company's plans to take things to the limits - both the `blood and guts' element of the play and the raw sexuality she hopes to bring out in her character. "I've had a lot of ideas about the character and found a cast that will be willing to go all the way and do the production how I want it done. The text is pretty wide open. The sexuality, for example, is all down there on the paper. But already at rehearsals other cast members have been [dramatic sharp intake of breath] completely shocked by what we're doing."

Such as?

"I can't tell you what we're doing. You'll have to come and see it. But I'm always surprised at how easy it is to shock people in this day and age. People come with this perception that it's [in exaggerated `luvvie' voice] Shakespeare. So you stand up and you speak beautifully. But when it was written there were people beheading other people and mass orgies. We're so PC in the '90s. That's why we're setting the production in the '70s so that people can relate to it, which should make it quite shocking."

Shocking people has always been Dannii's forte. Tabloid exposs and cruel speculation have dogged her. But then again, she's hasn't exactly been a shrinking violet. There was the alleged pounds 3,000 boob job, the Playboy shoot, the failed marriage and disastrous romances conducted in the public eye

Recently, Dannii hit the headlines for reportedly making a bee-line for Formula One star Jacques Villeneuve at the Barcelona Grand Prix.

"It seems she's determined to snatch the French-Canadian star's pole position," sneered The Sun, adding: "Her ruthless pursuit has paid off."

"Of course, it's hurtful," she says. "But I've experienced it all before."

She seems content about her romance with Villeneuve. "He's coming to see the show," she says. I ask her if his equally high- profile career makes things easier for them. `It's easier because we accept... when he goes, "Gotta go, gotta race" or when I say, "Gotta do a show", we totally understand. But then again it's really hard to make an effort to be together."

Was this a factor in your break-up with Steve Shaw (her photographer boyfriend of last year) I ask.

She pauses and sighs: "I don't want to go into all that. I'm happy now and that's the important thing."

It's the first time Dannii has drop-ped her guard. In a way, it's a relief.

She suddenly seems so much more human. Understandably, given her life so far, Dannii seems to have turned herself into the woman of steel - building up a wall of front to make sure the bullets all bounce off.

It's nice to know there's a little bit of vulnerability behind the tough exterior. I ask her finally if there's anything she's done in the past that she regrets.

"Oh no," she says. "I live for the moment. I don't have regrets."
COPYRIGHT 1999 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Syson, Damon
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 7, 1999
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