Janie Dee: 'I was told to stop singing and dancing to be taken seriously as an actress'

The Olivier Award-winner is currently touring the UK in Torben Betts’ dark comedy ”Monogamy”

Janie Dee
Janie Dee
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Janie Dee is an Olivier Award-winning actress with a career spanning over 30 years. Her West End debut came in Gillian Lynne's 1986 revival of Cabaret, and since then her musical credits in town include Cats, Show Boat and Mack and Mabel, as well as productions of Carousel and Follies at the National Theatre. However her CV contains just as many credits in plays including work at Shakespeare's Globe, the Royal Court, the Old Vic and Broadway. She is currently starring in the UK tour of Torben Betts' Monogamy, which plays the Park Theatre from 6 June to 7 July. Below she tells us about her career spanning musicals and plays, what it's like to tour the country and how her latest role came about.

It's very interesting to travel with the work, audiences are so different. It was a lot tougher in York, as soon as you go north you get a slightly more discerning and trickier audience. It's a bit like when I went to Russia in A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Globe. We'd been in China and they treated us like rockstars and then we were suddenly in Russia and of course they really know their stuff, the first act we were coming off saying 'oh my god there's not a peep' and then after the interval we had fantastic reactions and a standing ovation at the end. It's very similar in York.

Monogamy really holds a mirror up to nature, in quite a cruel way sometimes, but that's important. I play a celebrity chef who works from home, the cameras come to her and you find us filming the show. When the recording stops it isn't quite what you thought it was. She's a mother of three, the second or third wife of her husband and as the play progresses it looks at both her celebrity status and her status as a woman in the house.

I thought Torben Betts was drunk when he told me he'd written a play for me. It was three years ago, we were having a drink after the opening night of The Seagull, which Torben had translated for Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. He said to me 'by the way I've written you a play,' but I didn't take it seriously. So it's quite momentous that we're actually doing it now.

Genevieve Gaunt and Janie Dee in Monogamy
Genevieve Gaunt and Janie Dee in Monogamy
© Simon Annand

Someone once told me that I must stop telling people I could sing and dance because I'd never be taken seriously as an actress. And I thought how dare anybody tell me to shut up my talent in an embarrassed cupboard. It was actually my agent at the time, and I said that if they didn't take me seriously it was their problem. To me, drama and musical theatre is the same beast.

Follies returning is very exciting because I didn't feel like I completely nailed it the first time. So it's very nice to be able to have a bit longer with it. I said to Dominic [Cooke, the director] that I think there's a bit more there to be mined and he agreed. There is the worry that the expectations are going to be even higher, and of course we don't have Imelda this time round, but I just feel lucky to be able to do it again.

I tend to just go with the flow, but I'd love to do some Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. I've also got a couple of stories of my own that I think I'm going to try and tell soon.