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I TALK TO Jan Ravens

Jan Ravens began her career 35 years ago in 1983 and having made her solo Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut last year, she's back this year for one week only alongside fellow impressionist, Rory Bremner.

As Jan and Rory come together on one bill with 30 characters for the price of two (three at weekends), this pairing of two of Britain's finest impressionists is sure to be a must-see at this year's Fringe.

Last year was your first solo Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, how did you find it? And why did it take you so long?

I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I'd done lots of revue shows and plays and then about ten years ago I did a one-woman show but at the time my youngest kid was still at school so I basically did a show and toured it, but I didn't take it to Edinburgh because I didn't want to give up my August.

Although to be honest, he loves Edinburgh so much that he would have probably thought it was great. But anyway... and last year the time felt right with all the different things that were going on in my life, the things that were changing, and I thought this is the time to grasp the nettle.

Of course, so many things were happening politically. There were so many more women in power and women were so much more part of the agenda so for a female impressionist that was a perfect storm.

How did you come to the decision to return this year and share the stage with Rory Bremner?

Well what happened this year was that I thought I wouldn't do Edinburgh this year because it would be like that difficult second album. I'd spent a lot of energy and creative juice and whatnot on last year, so this year I thought I'd take a backseat and think about maybe doing it next year.

And then Rory said he'd really like to do Edinburgh this year because he didn't do it last year adn he told me how great it was to see me up there. Then he went "What about just doing one week and doing a double-header?" and I kind of thought "How hard can that be?".

I'll be doing some of the greatest hits from the Difficult Woman show but obviously because it's related to politics, you do want to be trying to say something new. Although to be honest, all of the news stories are the same. More Brexit! Really?

I'm trying to find a new way at being horrified at Brexit. Whether you're for it or against it, the way they're going about negotiating it is just unbelievable. But obviously doing it with Rory we will be doing some of it together. Although it is mainly a double-header stand-up show where we're both doing our own thing.

Do you feel like the political landscape at the moment lends itself to the work you do now more than ever before?

Absolutely! Because there are more women in power, or nearly in power like Hilary Clinton. And in Scotland, up until a little while ago, the three major parties all had female leaders.

Because of this, there becomes a more interesting power dynamic. Or people impose gender issues between people like May and Boris. He's the naughty schoolboy and she's the headmistress. Or with Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, they're always going on about the fact that Diane loves Jeremy because a million years ago they were together.

Are you going to regret only doing a week?

Well, life kind of takes over. I'm moving house and all sorts of other things are going on so I couldn't really do the whole month this year. But I'm really glad that I'm doing a week. I'm really glad that I have decided to keep in there.

So I'll get a flavour of it without getting to that third week and thinking "Are we nearly there yet?" like a kid in the back of a car! (Laughs)

Who are your favourite people to do impressions of?

Well I think at the moment it's definitely Theresa May. It really seems to have captured people's imagination. I think it's because she's one of these people where the impression tells you so much about the character. (Dips into Theresa voice) "The tension and the lack of connection."

As well as the inability to be loose. The inability to play. The inability to react spontaneously. I mean I don't know her personally, but that is the persona that she gives off.

So she's a people's favourite, but also Diane Abbott seems to be as well. Unless you're a Corbynista, in which case you object to it very strongly.

But I think as far as favourites go it's also nice as well as the politicians it's quite fun to do someone like Joanna Lumley, (dips into Lumley) "Where everything's absolutely gorgeous and everything's absolutely super and fascinating and darling" and using her to make a sort of satirical comment about something.

Is there anyone you've tried to do a impression of but have struggled with?

Yeah, there are a few. Jenny Murray from Women's Hour on Radio 4, she's just too deep and she has a lovely smoker's rasp in it. I mean I've done a tolerable approximation of it but I can't really do an impression of it. I love the way she goes into that tiny whisper.

Are you surprised by the longevity of your career as an impressionist?

When I started out I didn't imagine I would make a living from doing impressions. I really wanted to act and be a proper actress and all that sort of thing. And because my tendency was always towards comedy, when I started out I didn't ever go "I'm an impressionist".

It just so happens that when I started doing Carrott's Lib in 1983, I got asked to do a couple of impressions. Did them. Then got asked to do Spitting Image and oh hello, I'm an impressionist!

I've done theatre and sitcom and straight acting alongside it so what I like really, is to do lots of different things and to keep it fresh. When you're doing one thing all the time, you can get stale.

How topical are you going to be this year? Will you be writing up until the first show?

Yeah, very topical. And I can always call on the Dead Ringers writers because they're all so brilliant and obviously I know them very well, so I can be like "Guys, what do you think of this?" plus there's a fabulous female writer called Sarah Campbell who writes a lot of stuff for me.

The thing about topical shows is that you can always add just a few topical lines in and the show seems really topical. With Spitting Image and Dead Ringers when it was on the telly, we'd pre-record a lot of sketches because you can't do a whole show live.

So some of the sketches will be generic programme parodies like Location Location Location and then you'll have a few topical sketches that will be recorded the day before and that would make the whole show seem fresh.

As a solo performer, you can't really do a whole show based on the week's news because you wouldn't be able to remember it for a start! I mean Rory might, he's got quite a photgraphic memory.

For the parts where you come together, do you and Rory write together?

The difficult thing about working with Rory is getting to work with Rory because we're both very busy and he's got a very busy life so actually saying "Rory when can we do some writing? Rory, when can we start rehearsing?" is quite difficult.

The trouble with doing the show with somebody else is that you're dependant on them. Whereas at leas when you're doing your own show you can go, well I know it's all down to me and I've just got to knuckle down and do it... with the help of writers and stuff. It's got to be my idea, my through line.

So I guess it's quite interesting doing it with someone else but we get on really well and we both have an interest in finding a fresh angle and finding things to say about an issue. But obviously we both want to make it funny.

Is that the most difficult part? Making it funny?

Yeah it is actually. The Today Programme the other day said to me "We'd like you to come in and have a bit of fun with the idea of who's going to replace David Dimbleby" - like comedy just happens!

It does sound a bit self-indulgent to say it, but comedy is really hard. Writing jokes is really hard. Finding the rhythm of them and finding what resonates with people. If it was easy, we'd all be doing it. It's not quite as easy as just having a bit of fun with something.

You've been going to Edinburgh since 1978, what's kept you going back and what's your favourite thing about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I think the clue is in the word Festival really. The festival, the carnival, the whole celebration of life and art and comedy and so many different people getting together. I really hope that Edinburgh can retain some of the important aspects of the Fringe which is the experimental side and people being able to do it without losing ten grand.

The free Fringe is now enabling people to put on shows without spending their parents mortgage or whatever. Also, a lot of the Edinburgh shows now a lot of people can't afford to see them so the free Fringe enables people to see some good comedy, or a play, and pay what they can or what they want. I think that is really important because a lot of the Fringe, and you could argue that Rory and I are part of that, has almost become like the establishment.

And while we try to keep it edgy and keep it fresh, we're the old farts now so we've got even more pressure on to prove that we've still got it.

Have you seen the festival change a lot then over the years?

Definitely. When I started going it was much more casual. I did stop going for a few years because it seemed like everybody was hustling, and there is still that element of it because if you're young you want to get a gig, you want somebody to spot you and put you on the telly. I think it's important to retain the spirit of the Fringe.

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Well I have to start with everyone in my family first, my son Alfie Brown, Jessie Cave who had a baby with Alfie, so there's Jessie and Alfie and then there are brilliant people like Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Jayde Adams who I'm really looking forward to seeing. I always love seeing Tony Law and what mad business he's going to come up with.

I think Eshaan Akbar's got a really interesting show coming up as well so I'm looking forward to that.

Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?

Satirical. Funny. Interesting. And gorgeous.

Rory Bremner and Jan Ravens runs from 13th - 19th August at 3:30pm at Underbelly, George Square. Book tickets here.


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