Jane Asher has been acting professionally since the age of just five and boasts seven decades of film, television, theatre and radio experience, with credits including Alfie, Deep End, Festen (Almeida/ West End) and An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre). Jane starred in The Circle at London's Orange Tree theatre last year to rave reviews. See it at CFT from 30 Jan – 3 Feb.
How have you found playing Lady Kitty in The Circle? What have been the joys and challenges of the role?
"She’s a fascinating character and joy to play: a wealthy, upper class woman who we learn has behaved in a way that was unbelievably shocking in the twenties. Thirty years before the start of the play, in the middle of a dinner party at her large country house, she and her husband’s best friend ran away together, leaving a note behind – together with the husband and their five-year-old son. As the play opens we learn that she is returning for a visit, along with the lover.
"What makes her so interesting for an actress is the depth of her character as written by the brilliant Maugham. She is superficially a false, frivolous and embarrassingly shallow woman – obsessed with her horror of aging and the need to be the centre of attention and of admiration. As the play progresses, she is revealed as having far more to her – and that slow revelation is what makes the part both wonderful and challenging to portray with the depth it deserves."
Having premiered in 1921, why do you think The Circle still resonates with audiences today?
"For a start it’s a brilliant story: Lady Kitty’s son, now 35 years old, is married to the beautiful and charming Elizabeth, and – hence the title of the play – things may be coming round full circle, as we learn that Elizabeth is thinking of doing exactly what her notorious mother-in-law did and running away with her lover. This cliff hanger gives a lovely suspense to the evening and our audiences have been very torn as to which way they want things to go.
"The play is also extremely funny, and the mix of humour and depth is always a delight: to be in a wonderfully written and timeless play like this gives me the same sort of immense pleasure as I’ve had in playing Coward or Ayckbourn. Universal truths about ourselves put across in an evening of huge enjoyment make for brilliant entertainment for both actor and audience."
Jane Asher’s Lady Kitty is a tour de force, radiating elegance and sophistication with every move she makes
Having performed in the play at the Orange Tree last year, what are you looking forward to about taking it on tour?
"There were two huge plusses for me in being invited to work at the Orange Tree: I’d long been a fan of the director Tom Littler, and I’d been frustrated not to be able to accept an invitation to work with him a few years previously. When he offered me the part of Lady Kitty in his first production as Artistic Director of the Orange Tree, I was absolutely delighted and leapt at it. The other joy was to be able to work in the very intimate surroundings of that tiny theatre in the round: the perfect place to explore a play for the first time, and an especially rewarding place to enjoy - at close contact – the kind of success we had with The Circle.
"The fun of being able to do the play again in far larger spaces is to be able to open it out – not only to greater numbers of people, but also into larger surroundings for us on stage. The very squashed up drawing room set of the Orange Tree – where our chaise longue, for example, was nearer to being a chaise extremely short! – has opened out into a grand salon that beautifully represents the grand country house of the play. We are very lucky to be having the chance to explore this fantastic play once more and hopefully bring the pleasure of it to larger audiences."
Having enjoyed success on screen as well as on stage, what do you enjoy about performing to a live audience?
"Well, of course the obvious and unique aspect is the fact that, unless you happen to be in a serious flop (and I’ve known my share…) there will be LIVE people out there, letting you know only too clearly whether you are giving them a good time or not. The huge pleasure of making them laugh, or of causing a tense silence – or even of a hearing a few sniffles and blowing of noses in the successful playing of a tragedy – is hard to beat. I love the technical aspects of working on screen – modern microphones, for example, are so sensitive that it’s great to be able to speak far more naturalistically than when I was young – but there’s nothing quite like the instant approval or disapproval of a live audience to give you that frisson of satisfaction - or despair!"
A wonderfully gifted comic cast; their enthusiasm, chemistry and timing are impeccable and a consistent joy to watch
London Theatre Reviews
And finally, how would you describe the play in one sentence?
"An extremely funny and touching story of betrayal, love and human fallibility, written by a master of comedy and sensitivity, which, like all great plays, still resonates today as it considers the eternal question of life that we all struggle to answer - and which lead us to go round and round in endless circles of behaviour, generation after generation in our search for the answer - what is it all about?"
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