Actress Jane Asher on her illustrious career
Actress Jane Asher on her illustrious career
By Ellie Holmes
Main image: Jane Asher in The Circle (c) Ellie Kurttz
Somerset Maugham’s The Circle was first staged in 1921 and the comedy of manners has remained a favourite with audiences ever since. In fact, as Jane reliably informs me, it was actually Maugham’s favourite play.
If anyone would know this, it’s Jane, as this is a play and writer tremendously close to her heart, and she is looking forward to its return to the stage, this time at the larger venue of Richmond Theatre: it was previously staged in-the-round at The Orange Tree from May to June in 2023 in what was Tom Littler’s inaugural production as theatre director, and taking the role was an easy decision for Jane.
“It’s a wonderful play and a wonderful part and I had always wanted to work at The Orange Tree. When the two came together, I didn’t even have to re-read the script.” Jane plays Lady Kitty, a society beauty who ran away with her lover 30 years ago, leaving her husband and young son behind.
She moves to Florence with her lover, who happens to be her husband’s friend, and the narrative starts as Lady Kitty returns to the UK and comes to visit her ex-husband and son – who is now a middle-aged man.
Nicholas Le Prevost and Jane Asher in The Circle (c) Ellie Kurttz
Lady Kitty is invited by her son’s wife who has always been fascinated by her illusive mother-in-law and the audience is kept in suspense as to whether we are going to watch history repeat itself.
“One of the real parts of intrigue of this play is the relationship between the mother and daughter-in-law.
“In many ways, the daughter-in-law has romanticised her as she is also in love with another man. It’s this ongoing suspense of the play, along with the humorous touches that make it so gripping. It’s a rom-com with added wonder,” Jane reflects.
Jane’s enthusiasm for the play and knowledge of Maugham is clear. She says: “Maugham was himself unhappily married, but for different reasons, and there are nuances of his commentary on married life that weave throughout the play.
“Maugham was in love with a man at a time when homosexuality was illegal and his long-term lover had to live abroad. Maugham was very uncomfortable about the situation.”
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An illustrious career
Born in London to Richard, a pioneering physician and Margaret, a musician and teacher, Jane had her first role at fiveyears-old in the 1952 film Mandy. The Quatermass Xperiment followed. She went on to work opposite Michael Caine in Alfie, and had roles in Deep End and A Voyage Round My Father with Laurence Olivier.
But what are the moments and parts she has played in her career that stand out?
“I was in a production of Festen in 2004, starring Tom Hardy, Rory Kinnear and Jonny Lee Miller.
“Given the dark subject matter about child abuse, it was absolutely terrifying, but it was brilliant the way it was done.
“We had psychologists and many people to advise. It was so raw and it was incredibly dark on many levels, but it was the most extraordinary production to be involved in.
“There were moments in the play where I had to stand up as a mother of the boy who had been abused by my husband…. totally denying everything he had done.”
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As well as an extensive catalogue of acting work both in TV and film, Jane has also written three novels, and as an accomplished baker has also published lifestyle and cake decorating books, as well as running her own baking company for 25 years.
When I ask her to recall one of the most memorable pieces of advice she has ever been given, she reveals:
“I did The Saint with Roger Moore when I was about nine, and he said to me, ‘You’re very defensive Jane, try to be a little less so.’ That stuck with me and it made some impact.
“Going into the industry so young, maybe I was a bit defensive and I remember thinking, ‘ah ok, maybe I will try to be less prickly’.”
When she is not working, life for Jane, who is married to the illustrator Gerald Scarfe, is all about spending time with her children and grandchildren and enjoying country life in West Sussex.
Jane’s passion as an actor is unwavering and I ask her what keeps her engaged and passionate about the characters she plays.
Being of a certain age definitely helps. “I am so lucky that there are wonderful parts for more mature women.
“It’s a lovely fabulous job…. Of course it can be tiring when you’re doing two shows a day and while I am playing Kitty…. it’s a lot as she’s a full-on part. But she has such a lovely curve in her character.”
The enduring appeal of the play is its universal truths about love, trust and fallibility. “There is the clichéd veneer of what Kitty is like. But she has been through hell and had to run and hide. And of course it’s a funny play – how to place the comedy is key.”
Jane’s previous performances in Richmond have been lighter roles including panto at Richmond Theatre, where she played the Wicked Queen in Snow White.
She is delighted to be back in Richmond after The Circle had such a good reception. She reunites with the previous cast, Clive Francis, Olivia Vinall, Pete Ashmore, and Nicholas Le Prevost. “All of us are thrilled to be doing this again,” Jane says.