FOR 14 years she played the part of the nicest woman in the world in popular drama Midsomer Murders.
But now Jane Wymark – who played Joyce Barnaby in the long-running series – is embarking on a production that is lighter in tone but much meatier in terms of its content and relevance.
This May Hurt A Bit – at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre from tomorrow until Saturday – puts the NHS under the theatrical spotlight.
Stella Feehily’s play explores one family’s journey through the digestive system of the NHS and poses questions on the prognosis for Britain’s much-loved institution.
“I play two parts,” Jane says, who stars alongside Stephanie Cole – who until recently played the part of Sylvia Goodwin – mother of Roy Cropper – in Coronation Street.
“One is the spirit of the NHS, which is embodied in a 65-year-old woman and the other is a matriarch.
“It’s great working with Stephanie who can extract comedy out of almost every line, it’s quite amazing.”
Based on personal experiences of the system, Stella and director Max Stafford-Clark have produced what Jane says is very much a hard-hitting comedy.
“I wouldn’t say it was satirical,” she says. “And it’s not like Carry on Doctors either.
“It’s a hard-hitting comedy that hopefully will make people think. “There’s an election coming up and it’s something that affects everyone.
“In spite of everything the NHS is the best health system in the world.
“The cost is enormous though. It’s something like 1.1 million every 36 hours.”
The 62-year-old – also known for playing Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth in the 1970s BBC period drama Poldark – says that the appetite for the genre has grown in recent years.
“When I was a student decades ago there was a lot of political theatre and I think it’s back now,” she says.
“I think people are engaged more politically because of the crash and I think Leverson might have trigged it too.
“People are not necessarily willing to believe what they read in the papers quite so much now.”
Jane who is more towards the liberal left when it comes to politics – she has a copy of The Guardian in front of her as we chat – says she is still “astonished” by the conduct of politicians after the expenses scandal.
“I find it astonishing what has come out recently,” she says, referring to MP Maria Miller’s resignation.
“You’d think they would be squeaky clean after everything that has happened.”
We return to Midsomer Murders briefly – Jane says that although she had enjoyed playing “the nicest woman in the world” – she had reached a fork in the road after more than 200 murders.
“I’d certainly had enough of playing the nicest woman in the world,” she says, laughing.
“But I thoroughly enjoyed my time with John Nettles.
“When you’re on TV for 14 years you’re bound to get recognised and at its height I would see people giving me sideways glances.
“It was nice in a way. People would always think ‘oh there’s that nice woman’.”
n This May Hurt A Bit is at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre from tomorrow until Saturday.
For tickets, call 01242 572573.