Ruth Jones brings new play The Nightingales to Cambridge
The star of a number of popular television comedy series will be appearing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in The Nightingales from Monday, November 12.
For many she will always be Myfanwy, the memorable role she played alongside Matt Lucas’ Daffyd Thomas in the ‘only gay in the village’ sketches in Little Britain. For others she will always be Nessa, a part she helped create as the co-writer of the hugely popular Gavin and Stacey. She has also appeared in Sky TV’s Stella and the BBC’s Saxondale.
But from Monday, November 12 to Saturday, November 17, Ruth will be back on stage, appearing in The Nightingales at the Cambridge Arts Theatre – a new play by William Gaminara which began its run at the Theatre Royal in Bath on October 31. In her first stage role since Educating Rita in 2006, Ruth takes on the part of Maggie.
The story follows Maggie as she turns up for her first day rehearsing as part of a local acapella group. Soon, the newcomer is urging them to enter Talentfest, a potentially life-changing route to Britain’s Got Talent.
In the weeks that follow, loyalties will be tested, tempers will fray and lives will be changed – but not in the way any of them had anticipated.
“I hadn’t planned to do any theatre again,” Ruth tells the Cambridge Independent, “but William Gaminara got in touch with me asking if I’d read his play. I knew William from years ago when we used to do English language teaching tapes for publishers like Oxford University Press, but I hadn’t seen him for years.
“Anyway, he sent me The Nightingales and I read it and I’ll be honest, I was expecting to politely decline simply because of my decision not to do stage work anymore – but I absolutely fell in love with it. There’s no way I could have turned down the opportunity to be a part of it.
“The story is gripping and the plot is so intriguing and every time I read it, more layers are revealed. William has a wonderful ear for naturalistic dialogue, but more than that he has tuned in with such insight to human nature and the way we behave in groups, and also how we relate to each other and what we choose to reveal about ourselves – and on top of all of this, his writing is really funny.
“It’s interesting because we were all saying how we wouldn’t describe the play as a comedy but a drama with comedy in it. William’s writing has a wicked sense of humour, as does he.”
Ruth continues: “I think it’s a really compelling story, peopled with fascinating characters who, as an audience member, you can never be a hundred per cent sure about, which makes it all the more deliciously intriguing... I love theatre that keeps you guessing and The Nightingales certainly does that.
“The play is funny and touching and poignant and tense, which I reckon is a healthy combination of qualities for a great night out at the theatre – and on top of all that, there are some cracking acapella performances.”
On the character she plays, Ruth says: “Maggie is a single mum, very warm and kind, a bit under-confident, new to the village and keen to make friends. She’s the outsider who comes into this tight-knit group and once she arrives things start to unravel in ways that you wouldn’t expect.
“Most of the work I’ve done on stage in the past has been previously performed so this is a fantastic experience, being the first person to create this character from William’s script and bring her to life.
“Obviously this is a huge departure from TV work, which is what I’m used to. The play demands high emotion at certain points, so I’m going to enjoy the challenge of recreating that every evening. And it’s an honour to be part of a new play.”
Ruth is grateful for the fact that she is constantly kept busy. “I’m happy to just keep acting,” she says. “I don’t underestimate how lucky I am to be able to do a job that I love. It’s like getting to play ‘let’s pretend’, and I get to work with some incredible people.
“It can be a really fun job and I love getting to play different characters. The down side for me, though, is learning lines because I’m terrified of forgetting them. Also, as I get older, I’m becoming more anti-social(!) so writing appeals to me more and more because it’s just me and my laptop and a jug of coffee, and I can stay in my pyjamas all day and let my eyebrows go feral!”
Another down side for Ruth can be when fans become a little too intrusive. “Personally, I don’t hugely enjoy that side of the job,” she says. “I love the work itself, and I love it when people enjoy the stuff I write or the shows I’m in, but I’m quite private about stuff too so I like to keep myself to myself. I think a lot of actors feel like that to be honest.
“Getting recognised at inappropriate moments can be a bit awkward, like at my mother-in-law’s funeral when someone approached me in the post crematorium lineup and said, ‘What’s occurrin’?’ or when I was dripping with sweat at the gym – I’d probably just walked up the stairs, that’s all – and someone said, ‘I have got to have a selfie with you!’ ‘Er no, you don’t actually...’
“People think I’m joking when I say no to selfies because they can’t believe I wouldn’t want to have my photo taken.”
The Nightingales starts its six-night run at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on Monday, November 12.
The play is for age 14+ and starts at 7.45pm every evening, with matinee performances at 2.30pm on the Thursday and the Saturday.
Tickets: £25-£45 (all ticket prices include a £3 per-ticket booking fee)
Box office: 01223 503333 or cambridgeartstheatre.com.