Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Big Interview: Janie Dee (Part 2)

Janie Dee is one of theatre’s biggest stars, having played countless starring roles in musicals and plays in both London’s West End and in some of the UK’s most prestigious regional theatres. 

She won the Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress in a Play, as well as the Obie and Theatre World Best Newcomer Award in New York, for her legendary performance as Jacie Triplethree in Alan Ayckbourn's 'Comic Potential' which was written especially for her.

No stranger to awards success, Janie has also won the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her performance as Carrie Pipperidge in Nicholas Hytner's acclaimed production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Carousel' at the National Theatre. Most recently she won a UK Theatre Award for her critically acclaimed portrayal of the title role in Hello Dolly at the Leicester Curve. Not only has the star worked closely with Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn, but she has also worked extensively on screen and completed work on two films last year.

Just a few of Janie’s other theatre credits include: Noises Off, Calendar Girls, Shadowlands, Donkeys Years, The King and I, South Pacific, The Sound Of Music, Cats, Cabaret, Twelfth Night and Private Lives.

Janie is currently starring in the London premiere of Putting It Together at the St James Theatre. First produced by Cameron Mackintosh in New York, with Julie Andrews over 20 years ago, the London premiere also stars David Bedella, Daniel Crossley, Damian Humbley and Caroline Sheen. Later this year Janie will star alongside Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre. The most anticipated play of the year is directed by Michael Blakemore.

Recently I spoke to Janie, who is one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing, about her last minute casting in Hello Dolly, her awards success and why she’s so excited to be starring in Putting It Together at the St James Theatre…

Just over a year ago now you starred in Hello Dolly at the Leicester Curve Theatre. What was the whole experience like for you? The response was just out of this world!
Well, I’ll tell you what happened! I was leaving my parents’ house in France to come home after a holiday and just as I was getting into the car my father said “When are you doing to do Hello Dolly Janie?” I looked back and said “Daddy, oh my god” because I have done all these wonderful parts but he had never asked me “When are you going to play Anna in The King and I?” or “When are you going to do South Pacific?”
So what did you say to him?
Well I said I had never thought about it! “I would love to see you play Hello Dolly” he said but I explained that I didn’t think it was going to happen so I got in the car and drove away but I couldn’t stop thinking about it because he had never asked me to do anything before. I thought “God – how am I going to do Hello Dolly?” I had seen Samantha Spiro do it and loved it and I had seen Barbra Streisand do it and loved her, although didn’t enjoy the film. I loved the music. I got back and then the Royal Court offered me Lucy Kirkwood's play NSFW. Then I happened to be speaking to Paul (Kerryson, Artistic Director of the Curve) who explained he was having a bad day – and he just said “You wouldn’t do Dolly would you?” I just said “Of course I’m going to do it!” 

Did you call your father straight away?!
Yes! I called him and said “Daddy I’m going to play Dolly” and he was delighted and said “Cor Janie it will be such a success!” Even though [laughs] I then thought ‘god it’s going to be all chest’ because I’ve got quite a lyrical voice. So I rang Paul and explained that I wanted to play the part but I was worried because he hadn’t actually heard me sing the score, I hadn’t heard me sing it either! The last thing I wanted was for Paul to be standing in the stalls two days before we opened with his hands over his face. Anyway it turned out the MD, Ben – who now plays for my cabarets, lived around the corner! So he came over and we sang everything through. I’ve got a very low voice and people have always said to me it’s a shame that my speaking voice doesn’t match my singing voice! With Dolly it was all in my speaking voice and there was just one note which I thought was going to be a problem but I worked on it with my singing coach and we found it. In fact during the run my voice became more and more chesty. It was a great experience!

Janie in NSFW

How did you find rehearsing for Hello Dolly during the day and performing NSFW at the Royal Court in the evenings?
Well at one point I thought I wouldn’t be able to do Hello Dolly because rehearsals were going to be in Leicester so Paul moved rehearsals to London, which was actually quite chaotic for some people. The dancers were coming down on the train some days to work with me and then they would go back to Leicester. 

You must have been exhausted doing both?
I wasn’t because I was just so happy! I was working at the Royal Court which was a very special thing for me because I hadn’t worked there before. I learnt a lot doing the play. I was working with two lovely companies. 

And what did your Father say after he finally saw you in Hello Dolly?
[laughs] Ok – this is the last part of the story! During rehearsals he said he “We’ll come and see the show, we’ll come and visit over Christmas.” So I found a house in Bakewell, it had something like sixteen bedrooms for all the family and I spent all my money on it! We hadn’t all spent Christmas together since I was little - all three sisters and their children, my two children and my parents were coming. But then my father phoned and said “We have a problem.” It turned out not be cancer but they did need to operate. The operation was on a ridiculous date, I think it was the 20th December. I had booked the house and he wanted to put the operation off but I said “Don’t be silly Daddy, you’ve got to have the operation.” For the operation he decided to have an epidural so was awake the whole time. When the operation finished my Mum phoned and said “Janie, he’s come out the operating theatre singing, he’s great!” I was just happy he was ok! Two days later he phoned to say he had put the battery in the car and was coming to Leicester! I told him to lie down and not leave the house but he insisted he was fine. 

Oh my goodness!
So he left with Mum, picked up my sister on the way, she fainted, they took her to hospital, she had a very low red blood cell count, they gave her a complete transfusion and then she was fine so they brought her over with her children! It was incredible! They all watched the show on Christmas Eve and as I started singing “Before the parade, passes by” I could see my Dad starting to well up and by the time it finished with the big brass band and all of us belting our hearts out my Dad was just weeping! It was fantastic and then we went back and had this amazing Christmas. 

And then winning Best Performance in a Musical at the 2013 UK Theatre Awards must have been incredible!
The award was the cherry on top! One never thinks about those things, it was just a lovely reminder!

Janie in Hello Dolly

You’ve won several awards throughout your career…
Well you know what happens, it’s lovely in the moment when you accept the award, say thank you and say something witty – if you’ve thought of something. It’s a lovely moment and you might get offered another job because of it. My husband took them out of the cupboard and put them on the piano and there are moments when I look at them whilst I’m washing up or cleaning the house and wonder if I’ll ever work again. I do work quite a lot, I don’t spend much time not working but there are moments when I plummet, look at them and think “it doesn’t mean anything.” I’m so grateful for the recognition but what matters is the road that you’re on. You’ve got to keep your game up – keep practising, thinking, creating and re-inventing all the time if you want to continue.

Putting It Together rehearsals
Right so let’s discuss Putting It Together! It’s at the St James Theatre for three weeks but the journey of this production began last September in at the G Live Studio in Guildford.
Yes! After Hello Dolly I played Desiree in A Little Night Music. It was just one week’s rehearsal for one performance and it was great! One week’s rehearsal isn’t enough so it was scary but the orchestra were beautiful and the audience were unanimously on their feet at the end which is quite rare. Afterwards I got a text from Alex Parker which read “I’m going to call you in a minute about something and I’m hoping you’re going to say yes.” I had been absent because my husband was becoming a barrister and I needed to spend time with my children. I was starting to worry that I was losing my game so I decided that whatever it was he wanted me to do I was going to get up there and do it! He phoned and asked me to do Putting It Together at the G Live Studio in Guildford. I had seen it twenty-five years ago on Broadway. The show has never been performed in London before. I said yes and asked him to come round so I could record everything so I could go over it on holiday. I practised “Pardon me, is everybody here? Because if everybody's here, I want to thank you all for coming to the wedding, I'd appreciate your going even more, I mean you must have lots of better things to do, and not a word of this to Paul, remember Paul, you know, the man I'm gonna marry…” every day. I had no idea how I was going to learn that, let alone in a week! I practised it to a field of goats in France, to the mountains, to the rivers, to my husband who in the end said “No, I can’t take it anymore!” All my family were like “Can you shut up” and I would say “Just one more time!” It was worth it because eventually it just came. 

How did the transfer to the St James Theatre come about?
We had such a laugh in rehearsals; the whole experience was very joyous. During the interval of the first performance Robert Mcintosh and David Gilmore who run the St James Theatre said to Alex “Give it to us, come and do the show at the St James. We love it!” We did the second half which was even better and then the next three performances and here we are opening at the St James! We’re the first cast to do it in London. Julie Andrews did it on Broadway and it was fabulous! It is so painful and so funny, it’s all about relationships. If you want to find out whether or not you are in love, come and see it because it’s got such harsh, bitter, painful and funny truth within it. Sondheim is such a genius writer. He really understands the intricate details.

You are working alongside an incredible cast!
I really am! When Damian Humbley sings Marry Me a Little, I’m telling you Andrew, you don’t know what to do with yourself! It fills you up – it’s better than sex, it really is! It’s amazing but I don’t want to give too much away! The St James had this three week slot which was perfect for us and then we’ll see what happens! I recently did a cabaret in the smaller space at the St James Theatre and it is wonderful! It was rammed packed and the ambiance was perfect. It’s a sophisticated theatre but also so warm and friendly. 

Over your career you have built up such a loyal fan base – people who will come and see you in anything and everything you do. What is it like having that kind of support behind you?
It’s amazing – I mean I am simply amazed and can’t quite believe it. I don’t think about it that much because I perform for everybody whether they are a fan or not. I remember thinking about the spotlight when I was very little and I suddenly thought “What am I doing? Why am I thinking about being in the spotlight and the centre of attention as if that matters?” I realised that I must be careful because what I really want to do is communicate… and I do and they do. When I walked into the cabaret room at the St James Theatre it was packed and I was thrilled about that regardless of who had bought the tickets! I was like “Oh my god there’s Barry, there’s Michael, there’s Angela who always comes! She’s one of the Sondheim society women and she used to run the friends of Wimbledon and she always comes to see everything I do! And just before the show she always sends me a box of Marks & Spencer’s chocolate biscuits. Honestly they are the best things! There are certain people I’ve got to know over the years. At the Curve I used to come out as Dolly because you could congregate with the audience as they left. I would talk to them as Dolly and they would love it! It was like a Disney experience! It was really special. Some people say to me “We’ve seen you in everything since…” and I just think “Oh my god – you know me” because for me when I get a part all I am concerned about is becoming the character. I never consider that it would be me or my name that gets the people in, as far as I’m concerned all I do is play the part and somebody else worries about getting the people in. I should be careful because I do end up making friends with quite a lot of people! My husband always says “Oh god, here we go again, who are you having tea with now?” and I say “Darling, they’ve come to see everything I’ve ever been in – I’m taking them to tea!” He puts up with it because he knows really that it’s a nice thing to say thank you. I’m delighted and amazed that people come and support me. I do it because I love it, I love fulfilling the requirement of becoming somebody else. It’s so exciting!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Putting It Together runs at the St James Theatre until 1st February 2014.
Please visit www.stjamestheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Blithe Spirit opens at the Gielgud Theatre on 18th March (previews from 1st March) and runs until 7th June 2014. Click here to book tickets.

Singular Sensations continues at the Charing Cross Theatre with Jenna Russell on 26th January 2014. Please visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: 3&4: Catherine Ashmore

1 comment:

  1. This is a great interview! Such a nice woman, I am looking forward to seeing Janie in Putting It Together next week.