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I TALK TO Tracy-Ann Oberman

As we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Aunty Val in the new series of Friday Night Dinner, I thought it was only right that I caught up with Tracy-Ann Oberman to find out more.

The fifth series of Friday Night Dinner began last week on Channel 4 and was watched by 1.7m people, its best overnight audience since the second episode of series one back in 2011.

This week, Mum's friend Val moves in and causes havoc when she finds that Dad is hiding a tin of 20-year-old meat in his shed.

Can you believe it? Series 5 of Friday Night Dinner!

No! Isn't it great? And it's so well-loved by the nation. I've been doing a lot of theatre in the last couple of years and have done a bit of travelling and everywhere I go I always think people are going to come up and talk about EastEnders or Doctor Who, but they all love Friday Night Dinner.

Are you surprised by the show's wide appeal?

Really surprised! I thought it would be really niche because of the religious side of it but it just seems to appeal to all ages and demographics. It's fantastic.

Absolutely and Robert Popper's writing is sensational. Do you veer off script much?

I stick to it religiously. I admire him so much. For me he's like David Mamet for the small screen. Every comma, every dot, every line is honed and crafted. He's a real artist. The scripts are beautiful.

Where is Val at the start of Series 5?

Well... she's spilt up with Larry, played by Steve Furst who I love, and it's all a disaster. He won't move out of the house so she's kept the car and Larry's living in the house.

She's moved in with Jackie and the Goodmans. Initially just for a few nights, she's still there 10 days later driving Martin mad!

Why so?

She's turned into a real micro-managing monster. She's managing everything. In her own desire to feel useful and worthwhile she's ended dup managing the whole house. She's tidying everything up, cleaning, chucking everything away and has added in lots of rules and regulations.

So by the time the boys come on Friday night, Martin's practically been sleeping in the car. Jackie loves it at the beginning because her and Val have prosecco every night and being very girly. It all takes a turn for the worst when Val decides to give Martin's shed a once over.

As you can imagine that doesn't end well at all, it's Martin's sacred shrine where he keeps all his crap.

What else does Val get up to in the rest of the series?

Jackie ends up throwing herself a surprise party which Val comes in to help and that all goes horribly wrong! (Laughs)

She's around a lot more and we meet Val's younger son Spencer played by Jonny Holden who's brilliant. Val's sone nearly qualified as a doctor but got kicked out when he allegedly cheated on his exams. But he still carries on conducting himself as if he is a doctor. Even though he sells shoes online!

How do Jonny and Adam take to Spencer?

Oh they can't stand him. They don't get on with him at all. Jonny uses Spencer to get to Adam but then it all backfires. Basically, without telling the rest of the family, he invites Spencer and Val over to hear Jonny give a violin concert, even though Adam doesn't know he's going to play his little violin.

Will we ever see the Jackie hairstyle back on Val?

The whole joke in series one of course was that her and Jackie had exactly the same hair but they never see it. This series, we made a decision that because Val was getting divorced she's gone for a bit of a makeover. So her hair's now slightly different and a slightly different colour.

Is there a particular hairstyle you prefer for her?

Ooh... I don't know. I think I like the original hair when she looked exactly like Jackie. Especially when Jim comes in and goes "Ooh twins!" and they go "No! Not twins. We don't look anything like each other."

You mention Jim there, played by Mark Heap of course. The casting is just perfect in Friday Night Dinner isn't it?

Yes and that's the other joy of it. I think it's very popular within the industry because apart from the writing, the acting is sublime. Mark Heap is one of our best physical actors and is just a brilliant comedian. All of them are just fantastic. It's a really good cast.

What's the atmosphere like on set?

Because we've been doing it for so many years, this series particularly was very relaxed with a fantastic crew. It's hard to be in that small house for seven/nine weeks at time and not get on.

We had one scene to shoot in the hall that took hours and hours because there were only certain angles, but given all that everybody gets on really well and we play a lot of Boggle up in the green room. We play it all the time, whenever there's a break. Tom's very competitive!

So is it all shot in a real house then?

Yes it's all filmed in this tiny house in Mill Hill. It gets quite claustrophobic but it's lovely. Normally I just dart in and out but this series I was in solidly pretty much for the first four weeks which was lovely.

Did you base Val on anyone?

What's so brilliant about Robert's script is that because we come from a similar background, I know exactly who these women are. Jackie and Valerie remind me so much of my mum's friends. They all had a similar colour hairdo and Robert and I both know the woman that I've based Valerie on a bit... but I will never say who it is! (Laughs)

Any favourite scenes this series that we should look out for?

There's a scene in the shed which I absolutely loved filming. We all laughed a lot during that scene but I don't want to spoilt it. There's a scene at the end of the violin episode with Adam running after the policewoman playing his violin at her saying "I will finish! I will finish!" which is just brilliant.

There are three gorgeous cameos from three awful surprise guests at Jackie's birthday party and the surprise moment is excruciating.

You've worked, and continue to work across TV comedy, TV drama, soaps, theatre, radio... Did you always set out to have such a varied career?

Yes, 100%. For me it was never about being famous. It was always about working and doing interesting work. To be able to to the RSC and the National Theatre and then get into a lot of comedy, to do sketch shows, sitcom, drama and soaps is just wonderful.

It's a privilege to keep doing lots and lots of different things all the time. That's always what I wanted to do, do interesting work with people that I always wanted to work with. I never wanted to be pigeon holed.

When you do get recognised, who do they recognise you as the most?

Well Netflix has taken up Toast of London with a vengeance so when I go around the world, particularly in America... and lots of dads at school... recognise me as Mrs Purchase.

There is a lot of Friday Night Dinner love. Obviously EastEnders. For some crazy reason people think I'm still in it. They go "Oh I love you in EastEnders" (Laughs).

Doctor Who of course and because I'm still doing they Big Finish stuff, the audiobooks, the reaction to those is fantastic.

I depends where I am really. I'm down in Chichester at the moment and people remember me for Fiddler on the Roof which I did with Omid Djalili which went really well. Different things, but at the moment people just love Friday Night Dinner.

What's next for you?

A couple of comedies which I can't talk about and then a big theatre season at the end of the year which I also can't talk about just yet!

Friday Night Dinner continues Fridays at 10pm on Channel 4


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