23.06.04

An interview with Emmerdale actress Janice McKenzie
as she tackles a new role at the New Vic Theatre

The New Vic Theatre presents
Oscar Wilde’s A Woman Of No Importance

Directed by Gwenda Hughes Fri 25 June - Sat 17 July

We spoke to Janice McKenzie, known to millions as Gloria Weaver in Emmerdale, in a break from rehearsals for Oscar Wilde’s A Woman Of No Importance which opens at the New Vic Theatre on Friday 25 June. Directed by Gwenda Hughes and featuring Wilde’s dazzling wit and polished comedy, A Woman of No Importance nevertheless exposes a world in which women are punished for their sins and men applauded for theirs.

Janice, who has worked extensively in theatre for the majority of her acting career looks back with fond memories of her time in Emmerdale and admits that transferring over to television was a steep learning curve:

“I was lucky to have very good storylines. Gloria started as a drunken widow who worked in the vets and ended up becoming an MP – it could happen to anyone! Along the way there was a suicide attempt, the mayoral campaign and so much more.”

“It was a great learning experience. Having worked in theatre for most of my career and coming to TV relatively late, there was a lot for me to get used to – not least the lack of an audience. With no immediate response you wouldn’t get the payoff until you saw it on TV – not that I had much chance to watch it! The crew would work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. It would vary for the cast depending on the current story but it was a gruelling schedule – and I have no idea of how to set the video!”

“With around 20 crew members looking on, something weird and wonderful happened every day. Whether it was contending with passing cyclists and ramblers or low flying aircraft. When we filmed a sequence in London I thought that we would escape all the attention but no, every Emmerdale fan in the country seemed to be there. So I just hid until it was time for my filming and then ran into position.”

From her very first appearance, Gloria, whilst not a regular character, became a firm favourite with both the writers and viewers:

“Gloria originally came in for just one episode so she was a little larger than life. She fell in love with the vicar at the fete and was completely over-the-top with a large hat and a suit and so I acted appropriately. But then, following a bit of a break, the writers decided they wanted Gloria back and so we had to continue at the same level. The good thing about soaps though is that things change. You may be committing suicide one day but a week later you move on and it’s all forgotten. One day you’ve got no kids and then the next three of them are coming to visit!”

“Gloria is a useful character in as much as she was linked to one of the show’s regular characters, Eric Pollard, and she is an option that the writers have anytime they want to develop a storyline for him. There are no plans for me to return to Emmerdale at the moment. It has been kept open but things move quickly in soaps. It all depends on who’s having the next baby, going through a divorce or having an affair. The characters have changed since I was last there so Gloria’s presence may no longer be needed.”

“I really admire soap writers. I don’t know how they find enough storylines for six episodes a week – it really is quite demanding. When we moved to six a week all we could think was ‘how are they going to write that many, how are we going to learn all the lines and can we film that amount?’.”

“We’d usually get two weeks of scripts on the Friday and then start filming on the Monday so it was a quick turnover. With my theatre background I would read the full scripts, I needed to now everything that was going on. Others would just read their own lines. But you could either read them in episode order or follow the filming schedule. It could get very confusing.”

Among the highlights of her time in the soap was meeting the Queen as she made a visit to the set:

“The Queen visited for the jubilee celebrations. It was all a PR stunt and of course she had to meet the mayor and the lady mayoress - me!. She was very nice – but Gloria’s hat was better!”

Television soaps often propel cast members to star status, taking them into a world of glamour, but Janice remains down-to-earth and enjoys working in theatre:

“People do treat you differently and I’m ruder than I use to be”, she said with a smile. “I am not that comfortable with the fame side of the job. Mostly people are polite but then there are days when you just can’t get your shopping done!”

“Within the business, people haven’t really changed towards me. I knew many people like Gwenda before Emmerdale so they just treat me as they always have. Whether anyone else views me differently I don’t know, maybe it would be different if I wanted to do panto and then being in a soap would be important.”

And is she anything like her on-screen persona?

“Gloria and I are completely different. She uses my body and that’s where it ends. I have never been an MP, a drunk, stolen money or worked in a vets. I certainly have never worn clothes like Gloria in ‘real’ life!”

Looking forward to her role at the New Vic, Janice is confident that audiences won’t be seeing any of Gloria on stage:

“My character in A Woman Of No Importance is completely different. Gloria would never be able to keep a secret whereas Mrs Arbuthnot has had to for the sake of her son and her bond with him.”

“She is certainly a strong woman with a past. Although she lives in a time when women were no longer considered the property of their husbands, there is still a great divide between what is expected from the two sexes.”

Janice is thrilled to be back at the New Vic following her appearances in Romeo And Juliet, Loot, Othello, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall and Dead Funny. And the reason for returning to the North Staffordshire venue?:

“It’s simple. It’s a fantastic theatre and Gwenda Hughes is a fantastic director. I’ve enjoyed my previous appearances here so it is great to be back.”

Tickets for A Woman Of No Importance cost £6 - £15 with concessions available and can be booked by calling the New Vic’s Box Office on 01782 717962.