She is the undisputed queen of Aussie sketch comedy though probably most recognisable as frizz-permed suburban “hornbag” Kath from Kath & Kim.
But for a change of pace Jane Turner will star in the West End debut of Australian hit play Holding The Man, based on Tim Conigrave’s iconic memoir in which he wrote about falling for John Caleo, the captain of the football team at a Melbourne private boys school in the ‘70s and their enduring love affair.
An interesting fact, you actually knew Tim Conigrave and John Caleo in Melbourne.
They went to the Catholic boys school [Xavier College] and I went to the Catholic convent, Sacre Coeur. In the play, one of the first scenes we do has a Shakespeare play Xavier does with Sacre Coeur – I was in that play with Tim and John … and then after school I joined a theatre company and Tim came along and we were in plays together playing husband and wife.
How does it feel to be playing a part in a story that you actually lived through?
It feels great – I feel like I know the territory so well … It’s my era, in the book especially and I get all the cultural references like the Little River Band [laughs].
You play 14 characters, both men and women – that’s a lot of costume changes!
A couple of scenes I have to change character actually inside the scene … just change wigs. In rehearsal today I came on in the wrong role … In these roles do you get to do the full gamut of comedy?
Well, what’s great is I get to do some serious stuff, which I like to do … something to work at a bit more, so that’s rewarding … and there’s some really nice moments in the second half, especially when John’s dying – I play John’s mother and Tim has to tell his parent he has Aids, so there’s some real poignant moments.
You were in Prisoner, weren’t you?
Yeah I played a small part – 16 episodes. I played a blind ex-prostitute [who was] a gun-running murderer – so real!
Has the comedy scene in Melbourne changed much? Where’s all the sketch comedy gone?
There’s lots of stand-ups but not a lot of character comedy … Back then what we really cut our teeth on was the live theatre restaurant so you actually did revues, you actually did characters … It really honed your skills and that started the TV boom with the Comedy Company. I know it’s a shame. I guess people think they’re really daggy these days, theatre restaurants … they always were daggy but the Last Laugh just had that wacky, Rod Quantocky thing. He was always there with his rubber chicken. It was always chaotic. The actors were the waiters.
Will there be another series of Kath & Kim?
We sort of felt like it was the end two years ago. We thought, ‘We’ve done enough and the well is dry and we can’t think of any more ideas’ … We think we might just leave it for now.
What about a spin-off for Prue and Trude?
Prue and Trude! [Laughs] I know we’ve actually got a really good idea for them but I don’t know if it’s going to make a whole series. They’re not as easy to write for – they’re a little bit more one-dimensional than Kath and Kim. We could try and give them some tragedy in their lives, some drama.
What did you think of the American Kath & Kim by the way?
Ooh. It wasn’t quite what we envisaged [laughs]. I mean, we [Turner and Gina Riley] were EPs [executive producers] on it, but they just tried to take it in a different direction. The scripts were OK, maybe the casting wasn’t quite right.
I mean, John Michael Higgins, who played Kel, was fabulous but I’m not sure the girls were allowed to be as funny as they could be. I don’t know, the elements didn’t quite gel together. I think they were trying to turn it into a sitcom – they wanted a long-running Friends-type arrangement and it’s more of a comedy show.
» Holding The Man at Trafalgar Studios 1, Whitehall, SW1A 2DY, (0844 871 7632; Apr 23-Jul 3. £26-£44.
Words: Alison Grinter