Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Jo Brand

SHE has been a psychiatric nurse, is a BAFTA-winning stand up comedienne, actress, writer and broadcaster and been manhandled by self-styled makeover experts Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine in the name of fashion, but now Jo Brand is facing the biggest challenge of her life - panto.
The show in question is Aladdin which opens at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Friday, December 6 and in which she stars as the Genie of the Ring.
"I fancied a bit of a change to be honest," she laughs when I ask her what prompted her to take on the part.
"I realised I'd never done pantomime before so when it was offered, I thought why not?!"
I meet Jo in the basement of a rather dimly lit bar in Wimbledon on a very drizzly, cold day before rehearsals start.
And despite her sometimes sarcastic and droll demeanour on TV, she is incredibly relaxed and full of bonhomie as we chat about her forthcoming stint on stage and her lengthy and impressive career.
"Obviously I would have loved to be Cinderella because I'm a role model for glamorous women but they asked me to be the Genie of the Ring, God help me, so it will be quite amusing I'm sure," she chuckles.
"I’m no actress – I’d never describe myself as that but I wanted to have a go... tick it off the list so to speak.
"Also it's near where I live so I can get back home really easily which is a major consideration these days!" she laughs.
Joining her on stage will be award-winning actor Matthew Kelly as Widow Twankey and street dancers Flawless as the Peking Police Force.
"Fortunately I'm not going to be doing any prancing about myself - I shall probably be exhausted enough just watching them," Jo adds grinning widely.
As well as starring in the show, Jo will also have a hand in writing it.
"It will be another first for me in that I've never written panto before but I'm looking forward to it. The script hasn't been finalised yet though I'm sure there will be plenty of ad libs and gags.
"The worst bit will be putting on all the make up and wearing all the fancy glittery clothes - which is clearly not what I'm used to," she says gesturing to the outfit she is wearing - casual trousers, a baggy top and boots.
"Mind, you at least it can't be any worse than being dressed by Trinny and Susannah," she laughs.
"That was a very strange experience. I think whoever dreamed up the show thought I needed a makeover. It made good TV I suppose but they were hilarious and it was a bit of a laugh. I just looked totally different.
"I don’t wear black all the time these days so I suppose that's a partial victory for them. But I still wear the boots,” she adds flashing them in my direction.
Her appearance caused some to question whether her aggressive, men-hating comic routines and all-black wearing days were behind her.
"People always seem to think you mellow as you get older but I don’t think so," she says.
“What was hilarious was that when I was doing the stand up back in the early days, people thought I hated men which was ridiculous as I didn’t at all. They also thought I was a lesbian, again not at all."
In fact she is married with two daughters and lives not far from where she was born in Wandsworth, an area she loves.
"I love South London. It's very gritty and there are some parts of it which have seen better days but it has a good feel about it.
"Years ago it always had a reputation for being quite crime ridden and I remember South London Press was always full of crime and murder stories and the like.
"Now I think it's a bit calmer and there is more of a sense of community with people looking out for each other which is great.
"It did give me material for stand up.
"When I started out there were very few women on the circuit - it was just people like me and Jenny Eclair - and it was tough. There still aren’t a huge amount – but there are some very talented women out there so it's getting better.
"There was always a lot of heckling and you had to be tough so I just used to ignore it, give a put down or heckle back. You have to give as good as you get."
But she says it was a walk in the park compared to her previous job as a psychiatric nurse which she did for 10 years including stints at the Maudsley in Denmark Hill and South London Bethlem.
"Working as a psychiatric nurse it does make you think – it’s a really tough profession to be in and you are surrounded by some incredibly vulnerable human beings.
"The Maudsley is incredible in the work it does and I'm very proud of having been part of that. It hardens you completely though so after about 10 years I realised I'd had enough and needed to do something a little more light hearted."
However, the experience did leave her with a deep love of and for the NHS - which she showed when she penned and starred in the BBC Four award-winning comedy series Getting On which was set in a geriatric ward.
And she is now furious at the way she sees it being dismantled by the current Government.
So has she ever thought about going into politics herself?
“Oh goodness no,” she laughs. “I’d never be any good at that - I'm much too gobby!”

Aladdin is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from Friday, December 6 until Sunday, January 12, 2014.

Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

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