Why I'll never forget my Lovejoy days

STEVEN RUSSELL hears how East Anglia captured Caroline Langrishe's heart when she filmed Lovejoy in Suffolk two decades ago. Now she's back this way in an 'Aga saga' that contains some uncomfortable home truths

STEVEN RUSSELL hears how East Anglia captured Caroline Langrishe's heart when she filmed Lovejoy in Suffolk two decades ago. Now she's back this way in an 'Aga saga' that contains some uncomfortable home truths

THE applause has only just died down at Jersey Opera House. While mere mortals would be yearning for a long lie-down after the emotional rollercoaster of a midweek matinee, Caroline Langrishe is composed, collected and happy to chat.

The baronet's daughter who became an actress at the age of 17 will settle for just a takeaway Chinese meal - and a five-minute sleep before she takes to the stage again in less than three hours.

She's co-starring in the touring production of Marrying the Mistress - the first of Joanna Trollope's tales to be adapted for the stage. Over in the Channel Islands last week, it's now in Chelmsford.

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The play is about the aftershocks following a distinguished judge's announcement that he's leaving his wife of 40 years in favour of his long-term mistress.

It's been well received, though Caroline admits audience reactions have surprised her.

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“It's quite extraordinary. It's really quite a tragic, a rather black, comedy of a family's response and the repercussions of this affair, and the very first time we performed it at Cambridge the audience were laughing their heads off within five minutes.

“We thought 'Christ! Is there an elephant on the stage or something? Have we made a terrible mistake?' But they're laughing through identification and recognition, I think.

“She writes terribly well - Joanna - that current, middle-class, language and life. I've got a teenage son (in the play) and that's terribly well drawn, and everyone can identify with that. And everyone has got a mother in law, generally speaking, or knows of someone who has. And there are lots of mothers of sons, and daughters in law who are pissed off with mothers in law. It's all there.”

Let's hope the play doesn't release pent-up marital strife among members of the audience . . .

“Well, I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the bar in the interval. I really would. I should think there's an awful lot of silences and quite a lot of rows,” she laughs.

There are many short scenes of raw and intense emotion.

“It is very satisfying. And we're all busy all the time. It's not as if you spend hours sitting in your dressing room, anxious, thinking 'Oh god, in a minute I've got to rev up to that level.' Once the show starts, there's no ducking it. It's like being on some sort of fairground ride.”

Sounds emotionally draining.

“No. Someone asked me that last night; we had a questions-and-answers session with the audience after the show. It's invigorating. You feel quite adrenalised.

“The reason it's not exhausting is because there are so many laughs from the audience. Actually, they even laugh in the emotional scenes. I have a huge row with my husband and I get a round of applause! - because of the truth of what I was saying and because every woman in the audience has had that kind of row.”

Gosh. Uncomfortable for some of the audience, one would imagine.

“I think it can be. A lot of men go 'Uh . . .' and you can hear the groans!”

Caroline, 48, cut a dash as auctioneer Charlotte Cavendish in two series of Lovejoy in 1993 and 1994 - the gentle comedy-drama starring Ian McShane that was largely filmed in Suffolk.

Today, she's best known for her portrayal of Georgina “Ice Maiden” Channing, the ex-wife of Martin Shaw's maverick dispenser of justice Judge John Deed. The barrister is outspoken and confident.

“There's obviously a bit of that in me. But if you see me in this play, you see a completely different side. I'm very domesticated - a very run-of-the-mill housewife and rather exhausted and rather busy and rather cross, and in a rather unhappy marriage. And very, very ordinary.

“I work for a medical practice and I've got three teenage children and a husband who's never there because he's always having to deal with his mother (the woman whose marriage is disintegrating). So I'm rather busy and angst-ridden, and you see a lot of Sainsbury's carrier bags and cooking going on.”

Do you bite back?

“Oh yes! Absolutely. I'm the author's voice. It's a very satisfying part - a real journey.”

The recent series of Judge John Deed finished last month, with some of the storylines criticised as unrealistic. Deed's life seemed to consist of little but trysts, trials and tribulations, and he even served on a jury. As an insider, what does Caroline think? Not true to life, is it?

“No. But it's a television drama. You know, I took myself off to the Old Bailey because I realised I'd never actually been in a courtroom. And it's so boring! Deadly boring. You couldn't put that on the telly; no-one would watch. I don't believe there was an awful lot of authenticity in Rumpole of the Bailey. And Casualty, I should think, is nothing like a hospital.

“It makes us laugh, because the guy who writes and produces it, Gordon Newman, won't have it that these storylines aren't accurate. He doesn't accept it at all.

“We have court advisers on the courtroom days and you'll say to them 'Would I really say this?' And they go 'No! Not in a million years!' So you say to the director 'I've spoken to the court adviser . . .' and he goes 'Yeah, I know, but we're going to shoot it anyway.' That's the end of that!”

Marrying the Mistress had its world premiere in Cambridge at the end of August and, save for a six-week break over Christmas, has been ping-ponging around the country like a ball in a pinball machine.

As an actress, it's not so much the emotional investment in the story that drains you as the travelling, says Caroline.

“A couple of weeks ago we had to get from Poole in Dorset to Newcastle on a Sunday and you think 'Crikey. This is my day off and I'm actually travelling from one end of the country to the other.'

“It's fun as well, because every week you're in a completely different city and a completely different theatre. This theatre in Jersey, this opera house, is just charming - real Victorian in the auditorium - and then we're in Chelmsford, which is more of a modern building. So it's a real mixed bag and it keeps us alive. You get to see places you might never otherwise go to. It's like being a paid tourist.”

It's not always glamorous behind the scenes. The dressing room where Caroline sits has a concrete breeze-block interior straight out of Central Casting. At least it's been painted a tranquil lavender. “Hmmh.” Not taken with it? “It's not gorgeous.”

Mind you, the Jersey date is a bit of a spring break bonus, she admits. “It's beautiful. It's actually hot. Well, today it's quite cold, but bright blue sky. Yesterday was quite hot. We were walking on one of the huge beaches and I had to take my jacket off. It's like early summer.”

In many ways touring is much more fun than working in television, she says. How so?

“Well, you can be picked up at six in the morning and you might not get in front of the camera until four in the afternoon. It's terribly boring. And it's even more anxious-making when you know that at four in the afternoon you've got to play a whole courtroom scene and retain it in your memory. Urgh! It's killing, actually. I find television really hard.”

Mind you, better to be offered roles than not. For acting, even when you possess an impressive CV, is an insecure profession.

“Very. I've been very lucky in the past three years. Every job I've done, I've known what my next one is going to be. But at the moment I don't know what my next job is going to be. This finishes on May 6, so it's a little bit early to start fretting.

“But Polly Adams, who is in Marrying the Mistress, has just been offered a play that she's going to do in Chichester and I've just said to her 'Actually, I think I'm jealous!'”

What has she enjoyed most in career?

“I don't know the answer to that. Whatever I'm doing at the time seems to be the dominant thing. I've had wonderful treats and wonderful experiences, and spells out of work. I don't see any of them as the best thing I've ever done. They always say, don't they, that as an actor you're only as good as your last job.

“I'm really enjoying this, to be honest. It's like a family. We get on terribly well. I mean, you can not. I was in a tour a couple of years ago and it was deadly dull and not enjoyable, and I thought it would never end, and vowed never to go on tour again. I knew a bit about everyone in this, though, and knew that we'd be safe.”

Caroline started in the business as a teenager “and managed to work as an ingénue and then right through - through years of having kids and stuff, and now they're at university. That's why I want to work; I don't want to be sitting around doing nothing”.

The actress married Soldier, Soldier star Patrick Drury in 1984. They divorced in the mid-1990s. Leonie is 22 and following an academic path. Rosalind, a year or so younger, is in her second year of drama school and wants to follow in her mum's footsteps.

Caroline didn't dissuade her, then? “No.” Because it's been a good life for you? “Yes. Absolutely. I shall worry far more about her getting work than me, I expect!”

Will you be the type of mother who forever gives her advice, or will you let her find her own way? “Oh no; I shall always give her advice!”

(Marrying the Mistress is at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre until Saturday evening, with a Saturday matinee. Box office: 01245 606505. www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres

IT all took place more than a decade ago, but Caroline Langrishe's memories of making Lovejoy in Suffolk are as warm as ever.

“I spent two years commuting to Long Melford. Oh, heaven. I adored it,” she sighs. “We started shooting in the April and finished in September. Perfect. We drove our own cars: driving to work on a June morning, at half-past seven, was magical. And we all lived in the lovely Bull hotel at Long Melford and on days off went for wonderful walks. I loved it. It was a real treat.”

Are we likely to see her back in Judge John Deed, the show for which she's now most well known?

“Well, they say they want to make more in the summer. I don't think they want to make another series, but I think they're going to make what they call specials - a bit like they did with Kavanagh QC.

“But whether my character is involved or not remains to be seen. That's always the case with that series; you never quite know how much you're in and what the storylines will be.”

From auction rooms to court rooms, via . . .

Caroline Langrishe's acting CV includes roles in:

The 1999 film Rogue Trader

Heartbeat in 1998

Peak Practice in the 1990s

Poirot in 1991

Chancer in 1990, alongside Clive Owen

Minder in 1984

Just William in 1977

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