Having been a member of the youth theatre group at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London, Jenny Jules has grown up into one of that addresses most popular leading ladies. Since her first appearance, playing Media in Pecong, for which she won the 1992 Time Out Award for Best Actress, she has appeared in eight further Tricycle productions: Two Trains Running, The Colour of Justice, The Great White Hope, Wine in the Wilderness, The Promise, Walk Hard, Gem of the Ocean and Fabulation.
Elsewhere, Jules’ stage credits have included Born Bad, The Vagina Monologues, When We Are Married, Stomping, Shouting and Singing Home, The Pan Beatles, Familiar Feelings, Whispers in the Dark and Deadmeat.
On screen, Jules has been seen in the television programmes Kavanagh QC, Casualty, Golden Hour, Doctors, Judge John Deed, Holby City, I Saw You, A Respectable Trade and Prime Suspect and the films Up ‘n’ Under, SW9, Wit, Octane and Red Light Runners.
This week she returns to the Tricycle to reprise her starring role as Undine in Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation. The play received its UK premiere earlier this year as part of the Tricycle’s four-month African-American season of plays, which also comprised Walk Hard and Gem of the Ocean, all performed by a resident black company.
Place of birth
Lives now in
Why did you want to become an actor?
I loved the idea of being able to be someone different every day.
First big break
My first massive play was Pecong at the Tricycle. It was the Medea story set on fictional Caribbean island, done with music and loads of comedy. Paulette Randall directed it. I’d like to do it again with Paulette at the National. That’s where it should be done.
Career highlights to date
I’m really proud of everything I’ve done. I’ve always had a good time. Actually, I had a bad experience once – but I’m not going to talk about that!
I’ve had a good time with all of the actors I’ve worked with, most recently with Carmen Munroe and Joseph Marcell in the African-American season. They were idols of mine growing up. Each generation of actors, especially of black actors, is standing on the shoulders of the generation before them. All the people before me I have the utmost respect for.
Euripides is a bit hot and Shakespeare’s not bad. Sophocles, I like, too - I hear he’s not bad either. Noel Greig is a great playwright and a very very intelligent man. He does a lot of stuff for young people. I’d like to do some of his new work again.
Nicholas Kent (the Tricycle’s artistic director) has been an advocate of mine for most of my career and I have a lot of love and respect for him. All of the ones I’ve worked with are favourites, truly – Kathy Burke, Paulette Randall, Indhu Rubasingham, Nick. A friend of mine who died, Philip Tyler, he was brilliant. I missed an opportunity to work with Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale (joint artistic directors of Shared Experience) once and that’s one of my regrets. But for me it’s more about where I’d like to work. I’d like to work at the Donmar, Almeida, Royal Court and the National. I like the legacy of those theatres and the body of work they produce. I believe we stand up to those buildings at the Tricycle, but I’d still like to have a go and see how they compare. And probably the RSC too – I want them to offer me the role of Cleopatra when I’m 50.
What other roles would you most like to play still?
All of Shakespeare’s leading male roles. Someone once offered me the role of Hamlet but I couldn’t do it because I was too busy - that’s another regret. Give me some juicy male parts. I’d also like to have a go at Lady Macbeth and Electra. Really, there are loads. I’d like to play Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - I’d love to shout all night at my insignificant other.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact? And the first?
Last year, I saw an Arthur Schnitzler play called Professor Bernhardi, adapted by Sam Adamson at the Arcola. I’d never been to the Arcola, shame on me. The first play I saw that really had an impact on me was at the Tricycle. I was in my early teens and it was an anti-apartheid play called Blackdog from the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. I saw it four or five times. I hadn’t known what was happening in South Africa. That play really politicised me, it changed my life.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of theatre?
Put some money into it. I don’t know what’s matter with them. They put money into bombs that kill innocent people. Why not put money into something that actually helps people? Subsidise young people’s theatre groups. It really can change people’s lives and minds – it changed mine.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
The Queen. I’d nick all of the crown jewels, they should be mine. I’d visit the Tower, just put them in my swag bags and then I’d get my horse guards to carry the bags.
Favourite holiday destinations
The Caribbean, all the islands.
Anything by James Baldwin.
Favourite after-show haunts
Across the road for a drink. The pub across from the Tricycle used to be called the Black Lion. I like to have a drink in the Trike bar and then go across the road. There’s also a lovely Thai place I like to eat before the show. There are loads of places in Kilburn.
I don’t have any favourite websites. My email address is very similar to a lady who offers elicit services. Every now and then my service provider sends me her mail by mistake - the things I’ve been asked to hold and suck and put in different places! I’m my own hot, erotic porn fantasy.
Why did you want to accept the part of Undine in Fabulation?
It’s an exceptional part! She’s on stage the whole time, she has great monologues direct to the audience and goes through the whole range of emotions, she laughs and cries and is quite revealing. It’s a really serious tragedy executed with a high level of comedy. This woman has set herself up for the biggest fall of her life. For 14 years, she’s been at the top of her game and has tried to wipe away her past. But when she loses her business and the money is gone, she’s forced back to the projects in Brooklyn, back to her poor working class family, who she’d cut herself off from, and she has to deal with all the reasons why she left. It’s like The Rake’s Progress, a riches to rags story, descending back into what you rose out of. And it’s brilliant writing, that’s chiefly why I wanted to do it.
How does it feel returning to the role & production after a six-month break?
It feels good. I’ve been very much looking forward to doing it again and working again with Indhu Rubasingham, who I love. It’s such a great part, so there are always new things to explore. When you’ve done something and then you repeat it, you will of course have a different approach because in life you change day to day. It’s a new company so that’s another challenge – the others from the original cast aren’t coming back because they were rubbish (Jules laughs). Clare Perkins is in it with me this time around. I love her, we go back. And she’s such an excellent actress. She was in the film Bullet Boy, she made me cry when I saw that.
What was the most notable thing that happened during Fabulation’s
We all had a great time being involved in the African-American season – which was the first time a black ensemble had been kept over six months at the Tricycle. Fabulation was the last of the three plays. It’s only an hour and 45 minutes, but we were rehearsing it while performing Gem of the Ocean, a three-hour epic, each night. So we were rehearsing all day and then finishing in Gem at 11 at night. It was hard work, but instead of buckling, we bonded.
How did the African-American season come about? How important was it?
The Tricycle had been trying to achieve something like that for a long time. Nick Kent managed to get permission from August Wilson (who died in October 2005) to do Gem of the Ocean. Then he was reading a book of other plays and found Walk Hard, which was really the first modern black play so he thought, after 60 years, it was about time to bring that one to London. Because both were American, he wanted a third. They were three different but very powerful plays and, between them, charted 100 years of black American experience. It was an important event for the Tricycle, and it was certainly important for me personally to be part of that. Twenty years ago, there were 20 black theatre companies in existence in this country, now there are two. I know the world moves on. Maybe in the next 100 years racism will be eradicated, but it still exists now.
With nine productions under your belt, you’re practically a leading lady-in-residence at the Tricycle. What do you like so much about performing there?
The Tricycle is very special to me. I was born at the Tricycle. As a kid, I joined the Tricycle’s youth theatre and it opened my appetite for acting. The Tricycle is a big part of the community in Kilburn. It aims to bring local people into the building. Through its programming, the youth theatre and other initiatives, the staff are working round the clock to feed people’s needs. If something significant is happening, they strive to cover it. One example is the Jewish-Muslim youth group. For the past two years, those kids have been coming together once a week; communication, that’s the most powerful thing. I think the Tricycle has always been ahead of its time in expressing how people are feeling and where they want to be going. When I’m sent a script by Nick, if I think “yes, that’s how I feel”, then I’ll do the play. When people see it, they often tell me afterwards, “yes, that’s how I’m feeling too”. That means a lot.
What are your future plans?
I’ve got a couple of things I should be doing but nothing’s locked down. One’s a movie I’m quite excited about, the other’s a radio play with Lenny Henry. I’m always to open to suggestions and new possibilities in all mediums of entertainment. What I’d really like is my own show on the telly - I’d like to make my fortune so I can keep doing theatre!
- Jenny Jules was speaking to Terri Paddock
Fabulation returns to the Tricycle for a limited season from 18 September to 21 October 2006 (previews from 14 September).