A Dead Ringer for difficult
If you're strong, successful and assertive… Watch out! Jan Ravens is about. The Dead Ringers star talks to Muddy.
What happens when you’ve got Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon Hillary Clinton and Angel Merkel hanging on the telephone? Don’t worry, My Muddy Devon mucker, Sharon, isn’t moonlighting at the UN… (although I reckon she could sort out Trump, Putin and Kim Jong Un good and proper). Nope, she was gas bagging with vocal chameleon Jan Ravens. Over to you Sharon…
If you’d walked past me earlier this week, sat in my car, parked up on a dodgy industrial estate (it’s all glamour, this job), and eavesdropped on the phone call taking place on loudspeaker (nosey parker), you’d have been forgiven for thinking I was chewing the fat with Theresa May. Or Nicola Sturgeon. Depending on what you heard. Christ, even I thought I was, at times. That’s because I caught up with the star of BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers, Jan Ravens, ahead of her Difficult Woman Tour – a show that proved so popular when it debuted at Edinburgh Festival this year, that more dates had to be added, to cope with the overwhelming demand.
The critically acclaimed show sees Jan perform terrifyingly accurate impressions of our leading ladies, as she puts her own unique political stamp on the world. Just a handful of towns will be lucky enough to see it this side of Christmas, before she takes it across the country with more dates in 2018.
Jan kindly took time out from watching Doctor Foster on catch-up to have a quick natter with me. And, if our conversation was anything to go by, her show is going to be brilliant. Here’s what we got through before my phone died.
What can people expect from the show?
Well, if people listen to Dead Ringers on Radio 4, that’s me and so in my show I’ll be doing impressions of women like Theresa May, Nicola sturgeon, Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. We’ve seen a wave of female politicians and powerful, influential women come onto the radar lately, which is great news…because it means lots more people for me to take the p*ss out of. So I’ll be doing lots of impressions of politicians and people off the telly, like the smouldering Fiona Bruce and I’ll also be talking about what it is to be a woman of a certain age. Although I’ve tried to avoid the typical cliches, like hot flushes. And can I just say that, although much of what I do is focused around women, it’s not a show just for women – men will enjoy it too, especially since I’m laughing at women a lot of the time.
Why the title, ‘Difficult Woman?’
The title comes from the time when Kenneth Clarke famously called Theresa May a ‘bloody difficult woman’, whatever that means. It’s a phrase that seems to be used for women, if they’re ambitious, or decisive, anything vaguely assertive.
How do you prepare for a show?
I do have to warm my voice up, especially for doing Theresa May. She’s a nightmare for the voice box, with those strained neck muscles and that double-voice thing she does. It’s exhausting being Theresa May!
Are you a difficult woman?
I can be, actually. But everybody can be difficult, can’t they? If you’re nagging, it’s just because you like getting sh*t done. Life is difficult! I always think of the first line of the book, The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck: “Life is difficult…Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” [ain’t that the truth?]
Why don’t we ever hear men being described as ‘difficult’?
I know! Or if they are, it’s couched in terms of being cunning, or similar.
Who’s your favourite woman to impersonate?
God I don’t know. You obviously like the ones who make people laugh a lot! Nicola sturgeon, I guess, she’s quite fun because she’s got this little feisty side to her voice. [at this point, Jan goes all Nicola on me. Spoiler: it’s really good]. Oh – and Diane Abbott’s quite fun, too.
Do you have to tell people when you’re going to be doing impressions of them?
No, I never have. But I always try not to be unnecessarily cruel with my material. I’d never call somebody fat, or ugly. Presentation, maybe, because that’s a choice, they can change that. But no, I’ve never had any difficult conversations with anybody.
When did you know you were quite good at impersonations?
I’d always done it without really noticing. I think I realised at school, when I’d make friends laugh at my impressions of the teachers; and then teachers would ask to see my impressions of other teachers. Mind you, I still didn’t set out in life thinking, I’m going to do impressions for a living.
Which decade have you enjoyed the most so far? (Jan’s in her 50s now).
It sounds terribly Pollyanna but I really do think life gets better as it goes along. Yes, sad things happen as you go, but nevertheless, life gives you wisdom and the ability to cope with that. Things that would have broken me earlier on, I now perhaps go, ‘ok…I can deal with that’. You have a toolkit of things that you’ve gathered over the years to help you cope with things when they hit you, unexpectedly.
Ok, quick fire questions: what are you watching at the moment
Err, Doctor foster. And, oh my goodness A Child in Time. That’s really traumatic but brilliantly done. And the other night, I saw a piece on Newsnight about Grenfell Tower and some of the families on the 21st floor. It was just an amazing piece of journalism.
What are you reading?
The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton – it’s really interesting, all about how you grow with each other, the challenges and rewards. And I’ve recently read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. And I’m about to read The Handmaid’s Tale again.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Funny, kind, baffled.
Stuff like Trump?
If you were ever in charge of the world, what kind of world would we live in?
Ooh. A world without nuclear weapons, a nicer, kinder world.
And what would be on your rider if you were a world leader?
I’d probably demand a little basket for my Miniature Schnauzer.
Anything you’re looking forward to doing while you’re here?
Windswept walks on the beach.
Thanks Jan, we’ll let you get back to Doctor Foster now.
Jan Ravens, Difficult Woman, UK Tour, Sat 11 Nov, Norden Farm Maidenhead, tickets £15.