Joyce finally gets killed off

Jane Wymark who plays Heather Espy in Racing Demon
Jane Wymark who plays Heather Espy in Racing Demon

LAST week saw the transmission of the very last episode of Midsomer Murders featuring Inspector Tom Barnaby following the decision of its star, John Nettles, to quit the series.

Whether she liked it or not, it also meant the departure of Jane Wymark who has played the policeman’s wife, Joyce Barnaby, for 14 years.

“We all do have to have our stopping point,” says the actress.

“For me I have had a lot of fun doing Midsomer Murders but it was limiting and I couldn’t do other work. It was worse for John, who was there all day and every day, and that’s tiring.”

Leaving the series has meant she has been able to return to the stage and take a role in the Crucible’s production of David Hare’s Racing Demon, playing Heather Espy, whose husband is the leader of a team of eccentric vicars in a South London parish.

And a neglected wife by the sound of it.

“Yes,” she smiles, “but then are there any other kind of roles for women of a certain age?”

“This is a good part though,” she continues. “David gets an awful lot into a short space of time in terms of character.”

One of Wymark’s first professional appearances was in an early play by Hare at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1973, Brassneck, co-written with Howard Brenton, following a Midlands family over the three decades since the Second World War.

Hare has moved on from those early agitprop days but continues to produce “state of the nation” plays.

“Racing Demon is about the church and about the whole world,” says the actress. “It’s a metaphor for all kinds of life.”

And she believes that although it was written 20 years ago it remains relevant today.

“It’s good luck that so many things of the kinds of problems back in the 1990s come back in the news such as women bishops.”

How did she research the background. “We read books and had people in to talk about life in the church but it’s all there in the text really,” she suggests.

From a childhood growing up in Stratford upon Avon, theatre has been part of Jane Wymark’s life.

“My father was an actor and I remember seeing him play Bottom in A Midesummer Night’s Dream.

“It was open-air theatre and I went along when I was aged about 10 and loved it – and that was it for me. He played a lot of Shakespearean clowns for the RSC.”

Patrick Wymark, who died tragically young aged 44, had achieved fame as a ruthless businessman in television series The Plane Makers and The Power Game which gave him an image very different to his real character.

Jane Wymark also made her mark on television with a role in BBC Cornish saga Poldark in the Seventies.

“Then I got married and was out of the business for a few years because my husband was in the British Council and we went to live in Bangladesh and Denmark. And then I had children.”

Gradually she picked up her career and in 1997 began her stint in the ITV murder mystery series and, as one newspaper article joked, was the only woman to get out of Midsomer alive.

“It was an implausible life,” she agrees. “It would be carping to knock it because to be part of a very happy crew and company was wonderful.

“Me, John and Laura (Howard, who played screen daughter Cully) were a very happy family. But I’m relieved that I don’t have to be the nicest person in the world any more.”

Racing Demon starts previews in the Crucible Main House this week and runs until March 5.