This month we have interviewed Katy Manning about her one woman tour de force Not a Well Woman fro Big Finish and beneath the interview is our review of the piece. Enjoy!
Jon Pertwee was a very much a Doctor of action as well as words. How do you think Matt Smith measures up? Would you say there are any obvious similarities, or is he very much his own man?
What a beautiful boy Matt Smith is and Jon would be so proud of what he is doing with the part. There have been so many brilliant actors playing the role of the Doctor – and there is not a weak link amongst them. My beautiful Nick has recently departed and I get a little teary eyed every day to think about it. I have to wander off when I get too upset; I have to look at all the wonderful things that there are in the world compared to my little moment of tragedy. But Nick was so special at helping me when I was upset or confused – he was a true gentleman. Richard Franklin said to me the other day ‘Katy darling, there’s only three of us left now!’ Nick was the quintessential Brigadier; you just can’t imagine anybody else doing playing that part. Poor Jon and Roger gone too… (Joe: Katy has promised me to stick around for a long, long time!). Roger was such a loss to acting, he didn’t have to act menacing, it was a very clever performance. As much as the other actors have done a splendid job since (I especially like the latest Master) nobody could play that role like Roger. Its all very easy ignoring the fear of the situation when the Master is acting in a crazy way but Roger made the Master real, he was frightening because you couldn’t quite understand him.
After recording The Mists of Time and The Doll of Death, it was reported that you weren’t keen on recording any more stories as it didn’t feel right Jon not being present. What changed your mind, and do you see yourself continuing as Jo for as long as possible?
It was devastating to be playing the part with Jon. I did become more comfortable in the role and by the time we got to my personal favourite, Find and Replace I was just losing myself in the reading. Then of course I was given that delicious script from Russell T Davies, which was a wonderful continuation of Jo’s story. My trouble is that I forget that I am an actress and I use public transport all the time – I got on a train the other day and found myself near a very excited group of schoolboys of about 8 or 9 who saw my in the Sarah Jane episode and then later that evening I was on the train and confronted by a gorgeous Tranny on the tube who said ‘I loved you in Me and Jezebel!’ Its astonishing to have such a cross section of fans.
How did you come to write Not a Well Woman?
I wrote Not a Well Woman nine years ago when I was in America and I put it away in a cupboard knowing I would find it again someday. It was originally written for the stage and had one performance in New York with all sorts of theatre owners attending with plenty of excuses to leave during the interval but none of them did. They were all ready to go ahead and make it but far too many people got involved and I was moving back to Australia. When I pulled it out again imagine 100s of handwritten pages all over the floor! It was such a joy to re-write it and finally put the story to rest.
Not a Well Woman has a non-linear narrative that hops about throughout Pansy’s life – how did that come about?
I find it very hard to write a linear story, if I was going to write a story in chronological order I would be an accountant darling! I wrote it as the memories came back to me and one interpretation of the play could be that Pansy is remembering snatches of her life as she is dying which off course wouldn’t be remembered in linear order. Another reason I think it is told out of order is because I think on the other side of my brain; I hear rhythms rather than voices. I sound totally mad don’t I? (laughs madly).
How much of the play was based on your life?
The story is basically my life; I wanted to say that there are so many things in life that are fascinating (oh don’t I sound pretentious – please don’t quote this!) and to show how one might live through life seeing through my eyes. Some of the story is creative and there are bits and pieces of other people’s stories but on the whole it is a story that only I can tell. My childhood was seen through blurred eyes so I heard so acutely at a young age voices far more clearly than anything I saw. When I was younger I lived in my world which was quite different to everybody else’s, wearing glasses back then was far more alienating than it is now – what’s the saying, ‘Men don’t make passes on girls who wear glasses.’ My glasses were hand ground glass, they take about 3 weeks to make and they were so heavy they had to be taped to my head. Only my very close friends see me in my glasses now – that’s how my friends know that I am comfortable with them. The trouble is it is not the same as being blind – because as such you are given help but I was caught somewhere between seeing and not seeing where nobody could tell there was a problem. You can just picture some of the problems I have had in my life, imagine a younger actress emoting furiously to herself and not realising her co star has walked off the stage and dear Jon Pertwee was always grabbing me to stop me walking off cliff edges whilst we were filming Doctor Who! People had to stand at the edge with a white flag saying ‘Watch out! Manning’s coming!’ Or they would shout ‘Cut!’ and I would keep on running for another ten minutes because I didn’t realise everybody had gone off for lunch! And imagine…taking the wrong kids as far as the school gates! (more laughter!)
I found removing the trappings of a Doctor Who story gave you far more opportunities to look at life for what it really is. Where you given free reign to write what you wanted?
I’d already written it darling! I have such love and responsibility for playing Jo but as a person I have the need to create and that wont always be a child friendly piece. This story needed to come from me and so I just went with my instinct. I understand rhythm far more than I have knowledge of writing so I hope you found that when you were listening that the rhythm was there. I wrote it with a pencil, my heart and a rhythm.
I found that there was so much honesty in the play that you don’t always find in fiction these days in fear of being controversial. In particular Pansy admitting that she care form a bond with her children because she cannot hold them plus her holding back from helping her daughter who has attempted suicide.
It can be provocative but it’s those moments that I hope people who have been through listen to and say ‘I’m not alone.’ Pansy is not afraid to be honest – she says at one point ‘why should I have a nervous breakdown just to make you feel better.’ When I was a mother I had no friends as children and it is hard to form that connection but you have to see the responsibility through of having children. There’s no help – it is a conscious decision that has to stay with you for the rest of your life and I really wanted to put that across. I found it very important to write with honesty. Nowadays everything is labelled so nobody takes any responsibility for their lives but there is so much that we have to take responsibility for. And the hardest thing sometimes is to stand back when somebody is hurting (like Pansy does with her daughter) and not make the event about you. You need to be strong for them. Children don’t see life like adults; they don’t have the experience to see how everybody else is feeling. You need to be strong for them – you can go around the corner and have your own little nervous breakdown when you are out of sight.
Not a Well Woman was life affirming despite its subject matter. Does it sum up your philosophy of life?
Pretty much! If you plan your life you’ll never do anything! You have to have a go and not think to yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen? My father said to me and this has stayed with me throughout my life ‘Success is having tried and failiure is not having a go.’ It’s so important to do these things now because otherwise you will look back with so many regrets.
Toby Robinson’s work was technically superb.
Oh he did such a wonderful job and he was so enthusiastic about it all. In some ways it’s easier for me because I just have to deliver the script then poor Toby has to go away and make it all a reality. He has a wonderfully creative side to him and I couldn’t be happier with the overall result. When I listened to the story back I think my own feedback was: ‘Well I didn’t bore me!’ – sorry Toby!
How was the overall experience of playing all the characters?
Playing all the characters is very exciting, I read it whilst I write so its not like I had to make up the characters when I hit the studio. My partner Barry says it is wonderful to be around me when all my voices come out! I wrote the lyrics for the rap song (Joe: including one line that made me choke on my coffee!) – maybe that could be my new career, as a rapping OAP!
Do you see a future in not a Well Woman?
I would love to take to the stage now!
Moving onto Iris Wildthyme, a favourite of mine. How do you find playing the character?
I love her! Once I didn’t have to do it with the Doctor I found I could make her naughtier, knocking back the booze and being cheeky but what I love about her character is that despite all her extremes she’s smarter than she looks. I’ve had such a great time playing her – me and Colin did one and we had such a great rapport, always sending each other up and Peter Davison said the most wonderful thing (and you simply must quote this!) to me when we started recording one with him – he looked up and said ‘Is she really playing it like that?’ (We have to take a break for a second whilst the laughter subsides!). I would love to be able to physicalise her – that’s what we should do…campaign for Iris to be on the telly! Oh and I adore David Benson – there is a quip between every line we record!
How do you find working for Big Finish?
Big Finish has gone from strength to strength and have been a huge supporter of actors. I mean it is simply a joyous place to work and I get to see all the people I adore. Lovely Lisa Bowerman, my darling Gary, David Richardson who is such a sweetheart… They are wonderful. What’s lovely is that get such good actors involved and you know that the finished piece will be well directed, with great technical expertise and, of course, a fabulous lunch (Joe: I must get to a recording…everybody I have interviewed has praised the Big Finish lunches!). You can quote this – I recorded Not a Well Woman in a day! We started at 10 and had an hour for lunch and we were all done by 5.30! This Monday I am recording the Many Deaths of Jo Grant, which touches on Jo’s self sacrifice that crops up through her time with the Doctor. What’s lovely about Big Finish is that I get to talk with Paul and Mark and have a little bit of Katy input into the scripts. People listen to me and my dear Gary working together and having fun and say ‘Does he really talk to her like that?’ – he’s a dear friend (and when he asked me to play my part in Gallifrey with my normal voice I felt naked – its been so long since I’ve heard it!).
It was a truly wonderful hour and a half I spent chatting with Katy Manning – she made me heave with laughter and as you can see we talked about all kinds of wonderful things. For the full Katy Manning experience get yourself a copy of Not a Well Woman, now available from Big Finish and see just how fabulous her life has been!
Not a Well Woman written by Katy Manning and directed by Nicholas Briggs
What’s it about: Freefall with Pansy Maude! From Hollywood parties to African huts and beyond... Extremely visually challenged, Pansy’s quirky view of life is possibly tinged by the way she sees it - or not as the case may be. Pansy is free thinking, foolish, fearless, feisty and fabulous, but she is wrapped in a sunny world of soft edges and clouds of smiling colours, as she ventures into the dark shadows of menace, violence and self destruction. Why not suck it and see?
Precious Pansy: What a complete waste of time living in this world and not being able to see – what an awesome way to tell an audio story through the eyes of somebody who does see as well as the rest of us, a truly sensory experience. Always managed to avoid parties, even as a child but now they are a regular occurrence in her life. Was given enormous glasses when she was younger, so huge they had to be taped to her head and she could just about see albeit through a sheet of glass. Pansy instinctively learns to make up for what she doesn’t have. Imagine looking at your babies and not being able to see them, that’s heartbreaking. If you can’t see or hold your children the only connection you can make is to hold them. Much to her twin’s relief she didn’t name them after her favourite football team – Aston Villa! Pansy wants to work because she knows her work but she doesn’t know her children – she can’t make herself feel something for the children that are held at a distance. Tears and hopelessness wont make her a better mother – I love how real Pansy is, saying the things that other women don’t dare to say in fear of being judged. Posthumously her father received the Order of the British Empire. Pansy took part in a controversial play that got her letters of hate, letters of congratulation and even the odd date – it surprised the shit out of everybody! Politely asked to leave every school in London, pushed on to more appropriate places of education who would be more receptive to her literary idiosyncrasies. Oddly enough during her car accident the only part of her that remained unscathed was her eyes, her thick black glasses saw to that. Pansy’s hormone fuelled pregnancy is brought to life with terrifying honesty – this can only be written by somebody who has been through the torrent of emotions pregnancy can bring! You have to cheer when Pansy is accosted by Austen who wants to have her – she tells him to fuck off! Pansy feels somewhat intangible once she has let her children go. I loved the ending…as soon as poor pansy gets her sight back it is somebody else who cannot see properly – the driver who ploughs her down. A lovely touch of irony.
Captivating Katy: What a tour de force for Katy Manning – playing an array of superb characters and since she has written and preformed this piece you genuinely feel she is inside the heads of these characters. When she said she had a whole lot more voices inside her head during the extras of Find and Replace she was not wrong. Pansy has a squeaky voice, similar to her Jo Grant; she adopts a 20-a-day accent for the lingerie shop owner, a very cute 4-year-old Pansy and the afro-Caribbean accent for the woman she assumes is her mother, a Scottish Doctor, gruff Rodney the bastard lover, a French ballet teacher, Irish perverts, the butch fella working in the coffee adverts, the stiff upper lipped fabulous Mrs Cope, Joycie’s African accent, the pompous British Airways intercom voice (my God that is so accurate!), the Captain, the drugged up Pansy is genuinely terrifying, playing two characters in a farcical play, Kenny the Australian nanny, horn ball Austen – all the voices coming together at the end is hugely schizophrenic experience. What an amazing acting experience.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Welcome to trashy lingerie!’
‘When you can’t see anybody can be your mummy.’
‘Can I just ask…what are you doing in the closet?’
‘My work is my life and that’s what I hold onto. When I can hold onto my children then they’ll become my life.’
‘Why is there always glass…?’ ‘More glass…this time I broke through it, a windshield and a plate glass window…’
‘Serve God and suck my dick and lick my scrotum!’ – my coffee went for a Burton at this point!
‘Doing things alone often eliminates the difficulties of having to explain. When I need help I’ll ask for it after its past. Don’t ask me what’s wrong with me while its wrong with me because I’ll make something up.’ – Its almost like Katy Manning is inside my head at some points during this play.
‘I want the children to do everything that will fill them with possibility’ – so simple but really that sums up parenthood beautifully.
‘Different pieces of the Pansy puzzle were coming together’ – Katy sums up the drama perfectly.
‘There’s a teenage disease called ‘Life Sucks’ that’s universal! Life may not get any easier but it may get funnier. Suck it and see.’
Great Ideas: Red satin nipple peeping bras, feathered crotch less panties, jewel pumps with vertiginous heels and cheeky little maids outfits – Wowza if I was straight guy I would find myself in a spot of trouble! Who hasn’t been in the situation where they have thrown a party and as a result you are the person who cannot leave? In dance once you have learnt the steps you don’t need to see, you just feel. I love the term ‘secret secrets’ – the people who you tell them to are few and far between. What every woman in labour needs = a tine spray of Chanel Number Five! In farce it is obligatory for at least one female to appear in her underwear and one male to drop his trousers and of course a convoluted plot of mistaken identity! Who hasn’t turned up at the wrong airport?
Audio Landscape: Nicholas Briggs has been at this game for a long time now and has a superb grasp of the audio medium. You would think hopping about throughout Pansy’s life with such alarming frequency would be confusing but not a bit of it – we leap from location to year with ease, the narrative making perfect sense however it is Toby Hryrek-Robinson who deserves the praise for bringing the story to life with such an impressive array of authentic sound effects. Sirens, cars honking, a buzzer, polite chatter, crackling fire, ballet music, pouring a drink, ears ringing, heart thumping, car crash, ambulance siren, snakes hissing, lions grumbling, phlegm clearing marauders, a growling jeep, a bath, a trippy hallucinatory experience as Pansy tries her first drugs, heavy rain, seagulls screaming, the bustle of the airport, heartbeat, a long breath, birdsong, the delirium of Pansy on the hospital bed hearing all the voices calling out to her. Given Pansy’s trouble with her eyes it means the soundscape has to be more realistic than ever to give this a sensory experience and Toby Robinson deserves huge kudos for allowing us to enter Pansy’s world so vividly.
Musical Cues: Toby Hryrek-Robinson provides one of the best musical scores I have heard in ages, taking the listener on a tour of exotic locations and the many decades of Pansy’s life. I adore piano playing so the tinkling of the ivories during the party was right up my street. There’s a gorgeous rendition of Pachabel’s Canon, which is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. Loved the music during the Zimbabwe sequences – I was grooving about the house much to the raised eyebrows of my husband! That god-awful music blaring from TJ’s room! A lovely lullaby playing Waltzing Matilda on bells.
Standout Scene: Just the thought of somebody smacking a supercilious little squirt on the bottom with a British passport at the airport because they are trifling over excess luggage made me howl with laughter – it sounds like the plan journey from hell! When talking about painful acting experiences due to bear blindness I was reminded of Katy’s comments on location filming for Doctor Who! There’s an astonishing moment of poignancy when Tilly attempts to commit suicide and Pansy has to try and control her emotions and let her daughter deal with her actions in her own way – speaking as somebody whose sister tried to commit suicide many times when I was growing up it gave me a rare peek into how my mother must have been feeling at the time. Katy playing Austen beating Pansy is terrifying.
Result: A deliriously enjoyable trip through the life of Pansy Maude who sees her life through different sheets of glass, be it helping her see the world, holding her back from her children or embracing her in a car accident. Katy Manning has written a funny and poignant non-linear narrative that ties up the most important events in this incredible woman’s life. The first person narration allows you to get close to Pansy and the astonishing number of characters Katy manages to play convinces you for a moment that this is a full cast drama! I took a lot from this lyrical piece of storytelling, that it is wonderful to be able to see the world in your own way and that you need to get out there and live your life, embracing all the good times and learning from the pain. Not a Well Woman touches on strong themes motherhood, suicide and drug abuse and yet it is never a maudlin, serious piece – you finish the tale with a real sense of optimism. A brilliant kick-start into this range of original audio dramas, a very personal piece and a character I would love to hear more from despite the open ended climax: 9/10