|Jackie Clune as Julie Burchill|
20 Questions With...Jackie Clune
Date: 10 June 2002
Actress & comedienne Jackie Clune, who opens this week in Julie Burchill Is Away, reveals the highs & lows of solo shows & her admiration for the Queen of Spleen.
A former drama lecturer, Jackie Clune has forged an eclectic career combining stand-up comedy with singing, acting, writing and presenting.
Her many one-woman comedy cabaret shows, which have toured the country and been presented in the West End, include Chicks with Flicks, Follow the Star, It's Jackie and last year's Bitchin', while amongst her more conventional theatre outings have been Dan Rebellato's one-woman play Showstopper, A Wedding Story, The Vagina Monologues and numerous productions with Red Rag Women's Theatre Company, which she helped to found.
On television, Clune's writing and performing credits have encompassed Comedy Nation, Smack the Pony, The Staying In Show and even a small part on the BBC soap EastEnders.
Clune also spent several years presenting Jackie Clune's Breakfast Show and The Lavender Lounge for Greater London Radio/BBC London Live amongst numerous other radio appearances; toured the country hosting the cult Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music; took part in five Stonewall Equality Shows at the Royal Albert Hall; and provided the warm-up act for The Puppetry of the Penis in the West End and on a UK and global tour.
Amongst her other talents, Clunes is noted for her uncanny impression of Karen Carpenter's singing voice and has recorded two dance versions of Carpenters' classics Calling Occupants and Close to You which became club anthems.
Clune opens this week at Soho Theatre in Julie Burchill Is Away, written for her by Tim Fountain with the full consent of the outspoken British journalist. The new one-woman play reveals the "untold story" about the Queen of Spleen's rise from a Bristol housing estate in the 1960s via the Groucho Club of the 1980s to her current home, an unfurnished Brighton mansion.
Date & place of birth
Born 13 December 1965 in Harlow, Essex.
Lives now in...
Hackney, north-east London
I did a drama degree at Kent University.
First big break
Singing Karen Carpenter songs at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh in 1995 and being spotted by a West End producer.
Career highlights to date
Being in EastEnders in 1997. I was in the bar at the Queen Vic thinking 'I'm in the bar at the Queen Vic!' It was hilarious. Taking part in the Stonewall Society (geared towards equality within the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered persons community) Equality Shows at the Royal Albert Hall. And this (Julie Burchill Is Away). It's very challenging, a real hybrid between stand-up and acting, and I love the material.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Showstopper at the Edinburgh Festival and at the Arts Theatre in London. It was written by Dan Rebellato, who's an academic as well as a playwright, and was based on the life of Marni Nixon, the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr and Natalie Wood in the movies. It was one and a half hours, the first show I'd done on my own and my first big acting job. It was difficult and quite emotional. More recently, I also had a lot of fun doing The Vagina Monologues.
Annie Castledine, who directed A Wedding Story at Soho Theatre last year. She's a real enthusiast. It's lovely to be in a rehearsal room with her because she's very passionate and knowledgeable and a bit mad but in a good way. I loved just listening to her talk. Also Sarah Frankcom who directed Showstopper and who used to be part of the Red Rag Women's Theatre Company with me. And I would love to work with Mike Bradwell at the Bush Theatre someday.
Chekhov is my absolute favourite and I also quite like Ibsen. It's harder to think of contemporary playwrights. I used to follow Phyllis Nagy closely; I don't so much any more, but if one of her plays were on, I'd always go see it. Also, David Greig and Bryony Lavery.
If you hadn't become a performer, what would you have done professionally?
I was a lecturer for six years, so I'd probably have gone into academia.
What are the special challenges & pleasures in performing solo?
It's all the obvious really. It's lonely, there's nobody to chat to in the dressing room and there's nobody else to take the flak. The pressure is all on me and sometimes it's too much. It can lead you into all sorts of terrors. But when it's good and the audience applauds, I know they're clapping for me and no one else. Doing so many one-woman shows has strengthened me as a person but I also think it makes me a bit too self-reliant. I didn't plan on being a solo artist, it's just that I like to develop my own stuff. That might change. I would love to work at the National or the Royal Court or to do a musical. I like working with clever people.
What's the secret of good comedy?
A lot of it is presentation and delivery. The same material can live or die in different hands. In my time, I've got away with some fairly ropey old jokes. The stuff that tickles me is personal and edgy, slightly dangerous. The audience might not laugh but they gasp instead.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
The Glee Club, I loved that. I saw it at the Bush. The acting was spot-on, the directing and set great. There was just nothing wrong with it. And I liked how it explored issues of maleness and sexuality in these gritty working class conditions that weren't compromised at all by the context.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
I don't keep up to date enough with the subsidy debate, but I guess I'd say generally to put money into people not buildings. It's all very well having state-of-the-art architecture, but unless people are paid properly to perform in these buildings, they'll become white elephants.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
David Beckham during the England vs Argentina World Cup match.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I was at university with her but didn't know her very well.
Favourite holiday destinations
Eilat in Israel. The desert is beautiful and there's a lovely beach with a dolphin reserve. And Houston, Texas.
I like the Go airlines website. I book a lot of cheap flights, weekends in European cities for £20. I love that.
How did Julie Burchill Is Away come about?
Tim Fountain and I were talking about stuff we could do together. He'd just done Resident Alien, a one-man play about Quentin Crisp, and he asked if I could think of any women like Crisp. I said I'd always been a big fan of Julie Burchill, so he contacted her agent and we got her on board. We got the rights to all her published work and she's been really helpful. She's very excited about the play and is looking forward to seeing it. She won't be coming to the press night, though, because she's too shy. It's probably better too because, if she was there, everyone would be focused on her rather than the play.
What's your opinion of Julie Burchill?
I love her and her writing. I like that she's not afraid to riff about things that make her angry, things that other people would be too namby-pamby to say. She'll use the term 'working class' - which is very unfashionable these days - without blanching. I find her spirit very empowering; I feel almost protected playing her because she's made herself so impenetrable and infallible. It's like nothing bad can happen to me up there because, hey, I'm Julie Burchill.
What's your favourite line from Julie Burchill Is Away?
"It's amazing what you read in the papers. There was a piece in The Mirror the other day about a couple who take a meat pie on holiday with them. They've been doing it 20 years, given it a name and everything."
What's the most notable thing that has happened during the run to date of Julie Burchill Is Away?
In the first preview, there was a funny moment when the audience started clapping and whooping along with this Burchill rant about feng-shui, but then we took them to a place they didn't expect to go at all and they were so shocked, they didn't know how to react. That's Julie Burchill in a nutshell.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm taking a new cabaret show, Boy Crazy, to Edinburgh. After that, there are few other things in the pipeline. Hopefully, some TV soon so I won't have to slog my guts out every night on stage. I prefer theatre but TV is much easier.
- Jackie Clune was speaking to Terri Paddock
Julie Burchill Is Away opens on 10 June 2002 (previews from 6 June) at London's Soho Theatre, where it continues until 13 July.