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I TALK TO Morgana Robinson

"Normally I'm the dickhead, not the central character - so I did get pangs of jealousy looking at them all being idiots and morons."

Written by Nathan Foad and set in the small working-class market town of Newark in the East Midlands, Gold's brand new laugh out loud comedy Newark, Newark follows chip shop manager and exhausted matriarch, Maxine played by Morgana Robinson, as she tries to ride out her divorce and find someone who actually lights her fire.

However, it's easier said than done with her big-mouthed, soft-bellied, son, Leslie played by impressive newcomer Jai Hollis who dramatically comes out as gay to the surprise of no one and her dullard ex-husband, Terry played by Mathew Horne - in a role like no other he's played before - trying ever more desperately to win her back. Then there's her mother, Pauline played by Beverley Callard, who can’t help meddling with her love life.

As the series begins. it’s Maxine’s 40th birthday but her 16-year-old son Leslie has big plans to hog the spotlight and at a rainy English barbecue party, things go awry when some unwanted guests arrive.

I recently caught up with Morgana Robinson to talk about playing Maxine, why she's so proud of the show, what it was like working with her co-stars and why she's ready to hand the sketch comedy baton on to a new generation.

What was your reaction when you first received the script for Newark, Newark?

I got goosebumps actually, that was the first thing. Actually, my neighbour above text me saying "Are you alright?" because I kept screaming and she said "Are you OK?" and I said "Yeah! I'm just reading a brilliant script. Don't mind me!" So yeah, I squealed like a pig.

It's rare. When you're in comedy all the time, you read a lot of scripts. And even when you see something on the page, I can be like "That's funny" and people will be like, "Really? Because you don't seem like you're laughing?" - so when you actually get a comic to scream, you're onto a winner.

Talk to me about Maxine. Because she's very different to the roles you've played before isn't she?

It's interesting you say that, thank you. I didn't go big because actually, I think a lot of the time if you're the central character, you have to be the glue and let everyone else do the showing off in a way. And I think that's the rule. If there is a rule in comedy. I'm still not sure. But I knew it was about keeping it together and just letting everyone else rip, basically.

You meet her at this juncture where she's having a bit of a renaissance. It's a new chapter in her life. She's newly divorced and everything and a single mum now. And for me, when I grew up it was just me and my mum. So that feeling of pressure and stress and annoying brat and life uncontrollably going on around you was familiar to me.

Did you speak to Nathan Foad, the writer, about Maxine? Because she's based on his mother.

Yes, I made him record the whole script and send it to me. So that's why I sound like a gay thirty-year-old man! That's why. But yes, I didn't want to meet her because I just wanted to go with my instinct and didn't want it to become an impression.

Let's talk about Beverley Callard as Pauline, Maxine's mother. What was it like working with her?

I mean. She's just a walking legend Callard, isn't she? She's the matriarch of this family and I love her epic one-liners. It's the full stop on every joke. She's always there with a fucking smash at the end. She'll always deliver. She's a veteran, isn't she? She's an excellent actress.

And Mat Horne as your estranged husband, Terry - that's quite the performance from him!

Oh god! How refreshing? How bloody refreshing to see Mat Horne like that? I said to him "You're a clown". He's a clown and I mean that in the highest regard. He's not been allowed. I think it's often about opportunities and whether an actor or a comedian gets the opportunity to shine in the way that they should. And this is for him.

It's just such a different side to him. I think he really enjoyed playing a dickhead. As a comedian, that's your dream. And actually for me - going back to the question before - normally I'm the dickhead, not the central character - so I did get pangs of jealousy looking at them all being idiots and morons.

And although Maxine is at the centre of the story, it's a proper ensemble and everyone sings. Everyone has decent lines to deliver.

I have to talk about Jai Hollis too, who plays your son, Leslie. What a star! And this is his first TV role.

I know! This young man is an absolute sensation. To be honest, I was absolutely blown away by him. I think he's got so much bloody potential. For this to be his first job, I can't imagine what he's going to be like in twenty years' time. Watch this space! He gives me goosebumps.

Did he turn to you for any advice?

Nah! He didn't need my help! Don't need Auntie Morgs.

Well, the chemistry between the two of you comes across really natural.

It was very natural. We're both very loving creatures. And actually, everyone's well huggy on this show. We fell in love immediately. I hate to be boring, but it's true. We got on really well. So by the time we'd finished rehearsal, it just felt really natural. It felt fine to be intimate. Sometimes it can feel awkward, but I mother anything in my sight!

I can imagine there was a lot of corpsing on set.

Yes! The Callard got me a couple of times. So did Horney.

Had you been to Newark before? And what was it like filming there?

No! Absolutely not. It was really lovely. It was very sleepy and we had a very nice Airbnb, we got spoilt rotten. The locals were awesome. The only thing that was offputting was when we were filming in the market square - and you know it's set in summer - it was in the bleak midwinter, leaves on the ground, leaf blowers everywhere - but it was so cold I almost forgot my lines. Well, I did forget my lines.

All the locals were walking past and seeing Callard and during takes coming up trying to get a selfie. We thought that was hilarious! That was entertaining.

It does look like you all had a lot of fun as a cast.

Oh it was outrageous! I don't think anyone ever went to sleep. Everyone would finish work and we'd be like "Let's go out for dinner!" - "Let's go to the pub!" - and everyone's hanging out after school finishes.

There's nothing worse than when you don't get on with your co-stars. I've been there a couple of times. I wouldn't want to do that again.

This first series is only three episodes long, but do you have a favourite episode?

Episode three is a smasher. It's the one. Maxine's just not used to not doing anything. And you really see that in episode three. She's uncomfortable with having spare time. People run at that sort of frequency where they're always on high-stress alert and I think it's almost become her comfort. It's become her crux. There's that quiet after the storm and she doesn't know what to bloody do with it.

Do you have any favourite scenes?

I love the marriage counselling. That really, really gets me. I love all the Rudy and Claire scenes, I think they're really cute and really sexy. And I love my scenes with my boy.

Would you say Maxine is the character closest to you that you've played to date?

Yes, I would say that. I've got another show coming out called Stuck, and that is so me. It's a degree away from me so I'm really excited for people to see that as well.

But there's a lot of similarity between myself and Maxine. We are both turning 40. I turn 40 in three months and I feel like there's that fire in her belly which I have too. She probably stays a bit calmer than me. She can handle the stress better, so I'd like to be a bit more like her in that respect.

How proud are you of Newark, Newark?

I'm really proud of this. I feel like I've shed the teeth, the wig, the glasses, the silly shoes and for the first time in my life, I'm not scared of that. I think as I've gotten older, my confidence has grown. I feel more confident.

Impressions are of course what you're best known for - and brilliant at - was it always inevitable that you'd end up doing this as a job?

Yeah, I was always an idiot. I was always a naughty monkey. I was always doing impressions of teachers at school and always the class clown. It was a way if you weren't particularly pretty or popular with boys, of grabbing a tiny bit of that power or attention at school. If you could make people laugh and get in trouble with the teachers, you were onto a winner.

All three episodes of Newark, Newark are going to go out nightly and available all at once on Monday. Is that how you recommend people watch it? Is that how you watch TV?

Yeah, I think it's just nice to have the option. You watch it how you want to watch it. You don't have to run back from school panting because you've missed the first five minutes of Neighbours.

There's a trend for a lot of comedies on television to shy away from gags. This doesn't do that, does it? This gives us the laugh we all need right now.

I totally agree. The shit we've gone through. The shit we're going through. The war and the pandemic - no more sadness. Let's howl. Let's have a laugh.

Absolutely! And we've got Nathan Foad to thank for writing this. His first full series script for TV.

He's extraordinary. He is a megastar. It's already happening for him across the pond and everything. He was on set all the time. Couldn't get rid of him! I knew him before this, so when the scripts came in, I was freaking out. I mean, gay intern - he had me at the gay intern - do you know what I mean? Wowsers!

And are you hopeful there's going to be another series?

I'm not hopeful, I know there's going to be more. I just know. I just know there is. I'll eat everyone's fucking hat if we don't get a second series.

What have you been enjoying on telly recently?

Succession. Extraordinary. Those one-liners are absolutely joyous. Greg Sprinkles! And White Lotus I really got into.

What's next for you? You mentioned Stuck, has that finished now?

Finished Stuck and now I'm back to being an out of work actress. No, I've got lots of little things boiling. A thing with Channel 4 that I'm working on at the moment... that I can't really talk about.

Do you think you'll ever go back to sketch?

Never say never. Maybe it's time for some new blood. Some new flesh. It's kind of like handing over the baton with sketch. I'm ready for newer things, and different things.

What about drama?

It's happening a bit at the moment and now I'm doing a few comedy-dramas, the weather is changing and different things are coming in. For years I've been trying to crowbar my way in but I wouldn't be seen for things. It's been difficult. But doors are opening now which is nice!

Newark, Newark starts Monday 28th March at 9pm on Gold with all episodes available at launch and continues nightly


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