20 Questions with ... Jumpy's Doon Mackichan
Greig and Mackichan both received Whatsonstage.com award nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively in the wake of last year’s premiere at the Royal Court Downstairs.
Mackichan, whose stage credits include Government Inspector at Young Vic, Primadoona at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Menier Chocolate Factory, Loot at the Tricycle and Boeing Boeing in the West End, is perhaps best known as the star of Smack the Pony which she co-wrote with Fiona Allen and Sally Phillips for Channel 4.
Where were you born?
I was born in the cocktail bar of the Lainsborough Hotel. Fact. Well, it was actually St George’s Hospital in the old days, but that’s what I like to say.
Where do you live now?
It’s a rather lovely address - Nightingale Lane, just off Clapham Common.
What made you want to become an actor?
I didn’t really know that I was going to be an actor until quite late. I went to university to do drama because I loved plays, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to act, I thought maybe I was quite good at choreography and dancing and just showing off generally. When I saw Emma Thompson doing a comedy show on TV I remember thinking my 'God that’s amazing, I want to do comedy like that'. So I started writing my own stand up act and it all kind of blossomed from there.
What else might you have done professionally?
I would have loved to have been an opera singer, although I’m sure I haven’t got the lungs for it. I wanted to be a nurse when I was little and I would have loved to have done that as well but I’d have been really bossy and hideous - I would have been the kind of matron who just shouts at everybody.
First big break?
Probably Armando Iannucci seeing me in a pub and putting me on The Mary Whitehouse Experience. He then got me into On The Hour and that led onto Alan Partridge and we just carried on from there.
Career highlight to date?
I was very proud when I got a Fringe First for a one woman show that I wrote called Primadoona. I was very proud of myself because it’s such a painful show to perform because it’s about my son being in hospital. It came and went very quickly because I just did three weeks at the Fringe and then a week at the Menier. I was thinking about doing it again but it was such an exhausting thing and one woman shows are so lonely I just thought 'no, I don’t want to do this anymore'.
That's really hard. Well of course I absolutely love the Smack the Pony girls, who are like sisters, so that feels like family. Chris Morris is great as well - we worked on the Brass Eye paedophile special together; I really enjoyed that with Julia Davis as well.
Most embarrassing onstage moment?
When I was at the Boulevard Theatre we were doing a show called Dirty Dishes and I think people got the wrong idea and thought it was a sex show whereas it was actually a show set in a kitchen. So we’d get an audience full of camel-coated men waiting for us to strip. It was hilarious watching the audience, who would gradually leave when they realised it was a play. One time one of my co-actors put on a fish nose so I left the stage, ran upstairs, got a pair of chef's trousers that were hanging in the window, put those on and came back on stage in a huge pair of checked trousers.
First stage show that had a big impact on you?
King Lear at the Edinburgh Festival which Deborah Warner directed; it was the first time I understood Shakespeare and it was just done with two stepladders and some buckets of water. I couldn’t breathe, I think I nearly fainted because I’d held my breath for most of it.
And the last?
Lesley Sharp in Harper Regan was very good.
Worst piece of advice received?
Keep on trucking. Terrible, especially if you don’t drive a truck.
Do you often recognised, and if so for what?
I think with the rise of the internet I get recognised more and more because I think people get sent Smack the Pony sketches. YouTube has made me get recognised all over again in the last few years, which is a bit galling to be honest. So it’s mostly for Smack the Pony, but when I did Fame Academy for Comic Relief that was like being one of the Beatles; I literally couldn’t walk down the street. For about three weeks people would drop their bicycles and run towards me which was a bit scary because I had two little kids in tow. I never really got to speak to them because people were trying to hug me, so that was really weird.
Could you describe Jumpy in a nutshell?
The play is about a family facing a crisis. It has lots of other characters that come in and out and my character is the best friend of Tamsin Greig's. It’s about how we are living now, in terms of a kind of existential panic not just about money but about who we are as people, and are we serving our children, are we dominated by our children, are we slaves to them. It focuses on a mother and daughter’s relationship but it’s more than that. It’s about how we live now and it’s very funny and very dark. My character is raging against the dying of the light of being 50 and being miserable and not getting any roles except ageing German prostitutes. And she can’t stand the injustice it all, the fact that she’s not seen any more. So she comes on in very bright colours and demands to be seen and heard.
Favourite line in the play?
That would be when I get news of a death, I go straight to All Bar One. I get blanked by a man in there and Tamsin says, "maybe one of his relatives has just died". And I say "yeah, that’s what I do when I get news of a death, I go straight to All Bar One".
Did you choreograph the infamous 'pony dance' yourself?
I did, but I had help from Crimson Skye, who's a burlesque dancer. The idea of the pony came from a Sunday supplement about people who go for fetish weekends in Kent. That made me laugh so hard when I saw the pictures. I thought 'ok, I want to be a pony', so I looked up ponies on the internet and I saw dressage horses which also made me laugh. I chose the music and Crimson gave me some excellent tips, but it took me about three weeks to get it right.
Will you do more theatre after this?
Well theatre is quite hard on the family, so I’m not sure about that imminently because I’ve got an eight year-old and I don’t like leaving every night. But I do love the fact that it’s an 11-week run in the West End. To me that’s like a piece of heaven. So we’ll see what gets offered but at the moment I’m working on two TV ideas so hopefully you’ll see me back on telly because I haven’t been on TV for a few years.
If you could emulate anyone’s career who’s would it be and why?
I don’t think I’d want to emulate anyone’s career because I don't know of anyone who’s been a single mother with three children who’s been able to be a mum and be an actress. I’m quite proud of what I’m doing which is managing to say no to things; I’m going to be acting until I’m 80 hopefully so there'll be plenty of time to go to Bulgaria and do that film.
I’d love to play the Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra and I’d love to play Madame Arkadina (in The Seagull). I think they will all happen - it might be in a tent in the garden but they’ll happen in my head if not onstage.
Favourite West End haunt?
The National Cafe is really lovely and you don’t know it’s there because it’s next to a little tourist booth near the National Portrait Gallery. It’s a really lovely Oliver Peyton high-ceilinged Parisian brasserie type place with the most beautiful food. And also the Haymarket Hotel bar is very lovely too.
Finally, could you confirm the correct pronunciation of your surname?
You can just say 'Makee-an', but if you want to be posh and proper Scottish, you would say 'Makee-chan', with a soft 'ch', like 'loch'. I sometimes get 'Mackie-Chan', which rhymes with 'Jackie Chan'. 'Dawn Ma-crack-an' is another slightly ridiculous one.
Jumpy continues at the Duke of York's until 3 November 2012
** DON'T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to JUMPY THIS MONDAY 3 SEPTEMBER and get your top-price ticket, a FREE poster and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A - all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £37.00!! CLICK HERE TO BOOK NOW! **