Jane gains from the Hare and now at Crucible

Rehearsal: Jane Wymark who plays Heather Espy in Racing Demon
Rehearsal: Jane Wymark who plays Heather Espy in Racing Demon
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WHEN Jane Wymark joined John Nettles on screen for a new show called Midsomer Murders in the 1990s she had no idea how successful it would become.

A decade and a half later not only has she survived arguably the most dangerous area of Britain her career has come full circle, in a fashion, as she stars in the David Hare play Racing Demon from Thursday.

“The first play I was in professionally was by David Hare and Howard Brenton, called Brassneck at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1973,” she says during a rehearsal break. “He was the first director I worked for as well because he directed that. So it’s a nice circular feel.”

After 81 episodes as Chief Inspector Barnaby’s wife Joyce in the murder capital of middle England Jane is at the Crucible for her first theatre role, this time playing the wife of leading vicar Lionel Espy.

“I escaped,” says Jane who finished filming the final episode in July, screened on Wednesday, before going travelling to Shanghai, Hong Kong and America with her real husband.

“When I got back I was offered this job. I was in the happiest position you can be in although Espy is a very different kind of wife, a vicar’s wife, not a very happy person. I don’t think she’s an unhappy person, but she has a tough life.

“One of the problems discussed in the play is that vicars tend to be owned by everybody and end up not having enough time for their own families. So, actually...not that different a wife.”

There’s also another connection in Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans – he is directing Racing Demon and once appeared in a Midsomer episode.

“It’s quite odd having a virtual family for 15 years along with your own, but when we were doing the pilot I remember having a conversation saying ‘We might even get a series out of this’. It’s a very well constructed programme. It’s was an extremely good idea, a very good team and very well made. It’s very anchored by the detective and it’s good that particular detective unusually had a happily married life. All the guests are wild.”

But with the success of the show came the restriction of being tied to filming and a particular character, says Jane. “That was part of the downside; I had a very time-rich life but not a life I could plan. There were a couple of breaks in the year which worked out and I was very lucky to have time to sing in choirs and do yoga classes, occasionally go to film festivals with my husband. It was lots of fun but I couldn’t commit to other things.

“At the point where I thought it might be time to go it was a very successful programme, regular employment and it’s a tough world out there. The last couple of years I was champing at the bit, but then I knew it was going to finish.”

Although written 20 years ago, with its issues of the church in modern times as well as homosexuality within the institution, Racing Demon remains a relevant play that Jane says “ stays with you”.

“Somebody told us an incredibly high percentage of people say they are C of E. It doesn’t mean they have anything to do with the church, but we expect it to be there.

“Look at Midsomer Murders...a hell of a lot of churches. It’s part of that feeling of middle England and English life.”