Although it was 40 years ago, Janine Duvitski sees a direct line from her breakthrough role in Abigail’s Party to her appearance in Benidorm and the live spin-off to the TV series which comes to the Lyceum next week.
“Before Abigail’s Party I mainly did gritty kitchen sink dramas on telly and in the theatre and because of this one thing that got so much attention people began to think, ‘oh you do comedy. you have a funny face’.
“I thought, well yes I don’t have a pretty face but that can be just as good in drama. I do know it made an absolute difference in me getting work and being known but it was mostly comedy.”
The actor also sees parallels in Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s devised play satirising aspirational suburbanites, Benidorm. “We got accused, like Benidorm, of sneering at people but that was never the intention. Hopefully you get some reality within the comedy about their life. They are similar in a way, we were trying to portray that particular group of people at that particular time.”
Janine Duvitski, whose previous credits include Waiting for God and One Foot in the Grave, was in all 10 series of the ITV comedy show from 2007.
The stage show was the idea of the writer, Derren Litten and features six originals and a number of new cast as well.
Did she jump at the invitation? “It was a long run and I am quite old and that was my only reservation,” she says. “I knew it would be fun and lovely to do with old friends. We socialised a lot when we were in Spain because we were away from home so we knew that was a bonus and it’s proved to be that. We go out to eat together in new places and yet feel safe working together.”
Filming took up four month of the year. “I have been there since the first day and ended up buying a little house in Spain, down the coast, so it began to feel very much part of my life. I really love Spain and it coming to an end is probably good in that we go on to other things but it will be sad when this actually finishes.”
She can see the appeal of Benidorm the place with its “amazing climate, good beeches, unbelievably cheap booze and lots of things to do in the evening.
“The sort of people who do that are the sort of people who watch the show. I think there’s a certain snobbishness that if it’s about people who go to Benidorm it won’t be for us.”
And some people enjoy it a little too much. “ We would arrive for filming early in the morning because of the light and you would see people still drunk from the night before and trying to find their hotels. I think they find it quite surreal when we are trying to help them find their way back as they are staggering home. And it’s quite funny the people you see,there will be 10 Smurfs, people in fancy dress and hen parties.”
The Benidorm Live tour is bringing the actor to a city she knows well. “I was thinking, how long is it since I was in Sheffield and it’s 30 years. I only know that because I took my two little boys – I only had two then – to Sheffield to do Uncle Vanya and my husband (Paul Bentall) came to look after the boys and ended up taking over one of the e principal parts, Astrov, and I remember the Crucible rushing to help my childcare. So we had a wonderful time in Sheffield.
It was a proper rep production, not starry, and I loved it. “People are inclined to think I only do comedy which I love and am happy with, but I love going and doing a bit of Chekhov and things. It makes me feel proper,” she reflects.
A further connection with the Crucible is that in 2010 her daughter, Ruby Bentall, played the title role in Laura Wade’s Alice, a modern take on Alice in Wonderland. “She loved it. It was one of her first things and we all rushed to see it. And I remember there were all these posters of her all round Sheffield and thinking this is lovely. I am far more obsessed about her career than mine.”]\
She has a further connection with Sheffield in that her grandmother came from Attercliffe. “When she married she moved to Morecambe where I was born and then we moved to the Midlands and I came to London when I was 16. She’s long gone but I always think Sheffield is a bit of a home place. There were always relations from Sheffield who would come and visit us in Morecambe.”
Although she thinks it will be sad when the tour ends in April there is an upside because people have begun to associate her with the role of Jacqueline Stewart. “I think a lot of people think I am that character. You meet people after the show and they say you are such a nice person and I think she is but I’m not sure I am, I’m quite a grumpy so and so.
“People confuse it quite a lot, even within the theatre. We have just had a secret Santa and I had to say, please remember it’s me not Jacqueline the swinger so I don’t want any new sex toys. I get kissed by people in the street , they think she is this friendly character who is up for anything.”
Benidorm Live is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Monday to Saturday.