Preview: My Gay Best Friend

Actor Louise Jameson tells Andy Murray why her latest production, My Gay Best Friend, is simply art imitating life

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“Ah, I’ve helped many a young man through a difficult phase.” That’s Louise Jameson’s delighted response to being told by this writer that she features in his earliest childhood memory, being nibbled by a giant rat in a Victorian sewer.

Rest assured, the rat in question was a large furry BBC costume, from the time when Jameson was playing Leela, savage companion to a be-scarfed Tom Baker in 1977 vintage Doctor Who. Over the years since, she’s become a very familiar face from regular television roles in Tenko, Bergerac, EastEnders and Doc Martin, running alongside an impressive stage career.

Jameson’s latest theatre project, My Gay Best Friend, also finds her flexing new-found writing muscles. It’s a two-hander in which she plays Barnsley girl Rachel, an outspoken, high-maintenance Boots sales assistant about to make her live karaoke debut.

Nigel Fairs, Jameson’s co-writer and co-star, plays the gentle forty-something Gavin, who has encouraged Rachel and her ambitions, but finds himself in the midst of becoming a father, courtesy of a lesbian couple armed with a turkey baster. Consequently, the play opens with Rachel locked in a toilet cubicle, furiously cursing Gavin’s absence on her big night. Soon enough, though, he shows up, and the fireworks begin.

The genesis of the piece has grown out of Jameson’s real-life relationship with Fairs.

“Nigel really is my gay best friend – it’s very much art reflecting life. He just makes me laugh, and has done from the second I saw him. We’d always wanted to try and write something together, so we disappeared off to Cornwall for five days, got pissed and thrashed it out!”

Jameson is evidently very fond of her creation. “Oh, I absolutely adore Rachel. She can be incredibly rude. She just says it like it is and doesn’t hold back. In many ways she’s everything I’d like to be.”

Debuted at last year’s Brighton Festival Fringe and now on a short national tour, My Gay Best Friend certainly delivers lashings of camp comedy, but it’s also an intimate, finely observed portrait of a strained friendship. In the heat of the moment, the pair’s hopes, fears and secrets come tumbling out. As it unfolds, it’s not without its dark side.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but people have laughed and cried throughout it all. We’ve had some terrific feedback. We haven’t heard a bad thing. Maybe it’s being kept away from us, but everybody just seems to be bowled over by it.”

Some actors choose to distance themselves from popular TV roles once they’ve moved on from them, but Jameson’s more than happy to accept her Doctor Who legacy. Indeed, she first met Fairs when recording a spin-off audio drama which he’d written.

“I’ve always been incredibly grateful to Doctor Who fandom. This probably sounds all a bit luvvy and gushing but I haven’t been out of work much – and I’m touching wood here – but on the occasions when I have, it’s been the Doctor Who spin-offs that have paid my mortgage.”

In addition, she suggests, the intersection of the Who fan community and the gay community makes for a ready-made potential audience for this new show.

Clearly bitten by the writing bug, Jameson has all manner of projects in the pipeline, including more plays, a children’s book and a screenplay. Ageing fans of Leela, though, shouldn’t expect to see her returning to Doctor Who on TV as part of the show’s 50th anniversary celebrations later this year.

“No, I haven’t been asked. I’m doing various special spin-offs, so I will be celebrating it – just not on camera, sadly. I mean, I am doing some interviews for retrospective round-ups, but I’m a bit ambivalent about those because I think people just watch them to see how well or how badly you’ve aged. But still, as long as I’m lit well, I don’t mind.”

My Gay Best Friend, 24-25 January, Hull Truck, East Yorkshire

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