Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Face Value: An Interview With Louise Jameson

Louise Jameson tells us about her one woman play Face Value, an acerbic, topical comedy about society’s obsession with youth, beauty and transformation.

Dubbed as the 'Diary of a Menopausal Diva' Face Value is a one-woman play starring Tenko actress Louise Jameson. She plays Joanne Taylor - a former TV Diva who is on the verge of her 55th birthday, seriously single, 'hot-flushing' and about to make some drastic changes in her life.

The character, Joanne is being offered the chance to revive her career but her archrival – the apparently ageless Loretta Monteray - is hot on her heels. Should she go for the ‘nip ‘n’ tuck’ approach or will 'keeping it real' give her more of what she wants?

A one-woman play, Louise plays nine characters in total, and she says, it is by far and away the most frightening venture of her life. She has been involved in the conception of Face Value since day one, originally wanting to do some stand-up about ageing and the invisibility of the menopause.

"I didn't realise quite what a mountain it was to climb," she says.

"I started to learn the script on January 1st, having worked on it with the writer for nearly three years. We had gone through nine drafts so I knew it pretty well, but I couldn't get through it without a prompt until the day before the opening. It is an hour and eleven minutes of dialogue, but actually, with each performance it shrinks in my mind. It seems much more complete and feels less like Mount Everest."

"The writer, Helen Goldwyn is a young, brilliant new writer. She interviewed me for hours, literally hours, so a lot of the characters in the piece are based on people I know. There's a doyenne of an aunt in the play called Aunty Lulu, who is actually based on my Aunty Tricia. She has been a fantastic mother figure for me and an amazing inspiration throughout my life, so it's very nice to portray her on stage."

Although far from autobiographical, there are some similarities between the lead character and Louise. As an actress and someone in the public eye, Louise has first-hand experience of the issues her character is facing because of the way our society still celebrates youth, and diminishes the value of age and experience.

"There are rather more than I care to confess to!" Louise says, laughing.

"She's a presenter and rather more neurotic than I am. She has a daughter and I have two sons, but she's a single parent, she is still in the public eye - and has very similar relations to me!"

"During the 70s when I was in my 20s, I can remember on one occasion where I virtually had a choice of twelve different jobs at my feet. But now, the roles have shrunk."

"They have shrunk for several reasons. On the one hand, once you get reasonably well known you are automatically on the hot list or you are not considered at all, so you are not in on the first round as it were. A director will know if they consider you right for the part or not, which can actually be quite frustrating because versatility goes out the window - which was another reason for doing this show, because I wanted to represent my versatility as an actress."

"But after the age of 40, the jobs get fewer and fewer - with the exception of soaps which are very female lead. The days of Tenko which was heralded as 'drama for women' back in 1981, seem to have gone again."

"Helen wrote this wonderful speech in the play where my character says; 'I am not the one who decided youth is power,' to which my daughter replies; 'Yes but you are the one buying into it,' and I think that is so true. Women themselves are worshipping youth too; we are not seeing or realising the merit of ageing."

In Face Value, the dilemma facing the lead character Joanne, is whether or not she should have plastic surgery to boost her flagging career. Although Louise has toyed with the idea herself, she is still undecided.

"I am certainly not considering it in the near future, but I really wouldn't say never. But at the moment I think it is more important that women of my age start to feel happy and comfortable with the way they are."

"I went to see Eileen Atkins in a play recently. She is now in her early 70s and when I went to speak to her back stage we were talking about the whole face lift issue and whether to have it done or not. 'Don't do it,' she said. 'My phone does not stop ringing now. They can't find a wrinkly actress anywhere in Los Angeles or Britain these days.'"

"Again in the play, my character says to my daughter; 'Look at these wrinkles and lines. They are awful - wait till you get them.' And my daughter replies; 'No they are not awful. They show your life. Why would you want to cut bits of that off?' I think that is just such a beautiful line and so very apt."

"Did you know, they have botox as early as twenty-five in America in order to paralyse the facial muscles, so the wrinkles do not develop in the first place? But when you think that at least twenty-five per cent of communication comes through facial expressions, and when you are in the job of performing and entertaining, how can you have a face that is immobilised and do that with proficiency?"

The only way things are going to change, Louise says, is if there are more female writers so there.

"They are seeping through with this generation of women in their late 20s and early 30s. They are very innovative, and used to diversifying because this whole thing of a job for life has disappeared, so a lot of them have other jobs too. But it means there are a lot more female writers out there now, which their weren't twenty years ago - so I am living in hope!"

Ticket Information

Face Value is an International Women's Week Event and is on at the Hackney Empire until March 17th, 2007. Tickets £12.50 Concessions, £9. For tickets, ring the box Office 020 8985 2424 or visit www.hackneyempire.co.uk

Rachael Hannan: 2007

Published on 50connect

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