Before the pandemic, Jasmyn Banks had recently finished playing Shelley in the arena tour of Grandpa’s Great Escape after playing Amanda on the UK Tour of Caroline’s Kitchen, with the show then transferring to New York. Screen work for Jasmyn has included the role of Nicola Howson in last year’s TV mini-series Quiz, and she had her first regular role as Alice Branning in EastEnders, with her first performance in May 2012 before leaving in December 2013. Further credits for Jasmyn has seen her touring in One Man Two Guvnors as well as working on a number of TV shows including A Very English Scandal in 2018. Chatting with Jasmyn, she tells us about playing Shelley in Grandpa’s Great Escape, touring with Caroline’s Kitchen and her time in EastEnders as Alice Branning.
Your most recent production before the pandemic was Grandpa’s Great Escape, what was Shelley like to play and what was the show like to be part of?
It was so much fun, Shelley is the stereotypical stroppy teenager who was heavily into her 80’s fashion statement pieces so as a grown woman stomping about on stage being embarrassed by my ‘parents’ was not only a giggle but also a great way to keep fit, I think I had nine costume changes in an hour.
How was it being part of an arena tour during the Christmas period?
It was a very different experience playing to such an enormous space but completely exhilarating. The atmosphere is totally different to being in a theatre, the audience felt so far away and yet the echoes of the reactions were really close. The tour schedule was intense getting to a new city each day, but it was an adventure.
You played Amanda in Caroline’s Kitchen, can you tell us about the character and what drew you to the production?
Amanda is my favourite and most challenging character I have played to date. She is a cacophony of accents, insults, and bonkers word vomit and she has a raw vulnerability she tries to squash with narcotics, making her extremely volatile. I absolutely love this play, I love Torben Betts’ style of writing, even with the challenge it presents to learn, and I adore Amanda. She is my favourite hot mess. I was drawn to the humour and the excellently observed characters that immediately felt real to me when I read the play and I was thrilled when I got the job.
What was it like touring the UK in Caroline’s Kitchen and seeing the audience response to the show?
Caroline’s Kitchen received a completely different reaction in every town we went to, which was always a huge surprise to us. We never knew if we would get laughter from start to finish or a contemplative hard stare! It was daunting at times but it required us as a team to have complete faith in each other, and the show. We had to learn that we couldn’t play for laughs, the show had to be the same tempo each night or it lost it’s meaning and in some ways it was liberating.
How did you find the experience when the show transferred to New York?
I was so excited to have the opportunity to live and work in New York, I am a huge fan of the city and I felt really lucky to be there. The theatre we played in New York was a small and intimate space which I think works wonderfully for this show. The space gave us permission to give our characters complexities that could be missed on a bigger stage, but this audience didn’t miss a single beat, a little more like acting for camera and I really enjoyed that element. Playing for an American audience was also an interesting experience as there were bits that they found humour in we didn’t always understand and laughs English audiences got which didn’t register over there. Fascinating!
How was your time playing Pauline in One Man Two Guvnors?
A BLAST! Pauline was a well-intentioned sweet girl that was a few sandwiches short of a picnic and more drama than the kitchen sink! I loved every minute of getting on my blonde wig and sobbing into a chair at the slightest hint of not getting her own way. One Man Two Guvnors is such a brilliantly written show that it still had us in the cast laughing up until our very last day, which I think by then was show 300. It was a real joy to get such huge reactions from the audience every single show and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Last year, you were seen in the TV mini-series Quiz as Nicola Howson, what was the show like to film?
I am starting to sound repetitive but it really was a great laugh, everyone involved in the making of Quiz was a joy to work with and the storyline had us discussing “did they or didn’t they” for hours. I was a big fan of getting into the 90’s costumes and to see a set that transported us back in time for a snapshot of something I remember happening so vividly.
How much did you know about the storyline before booking the role and can you say about your character?
I didn’t know anywhere near as much as I did until I read the script, at the time it was a scandal I saw in the paper and didn’t even watch the show live when it happened. It was a huge eye opener reading the script, my heart was pounding with nerves as if I was really there at the time. I played Nicola Howson who was the head of press for ITV at the time and she did a set visit one day, so we got to have lunch. It was great to get the opportunity to speak to her and find out exactly what was going on in their minds when it was happening and how different press was back then, before social media.
What was it like filming your episode of A Very English Scandal?
Daunting at first but then really liberating. I hadn’t ever worked on a set so big before, there was a live band and a lot of supporting artists and me dancing at the end of a catwalk so I had to dig deep to find my courage at first but everyone on set was really kind and made me feel at ease really quickly.
You played Alice Branning in EastEnders across two years, what are some of your favourite memories from your time playing the character?
My favourite Alice moments… gosh there’s a lot! I think shouting “I’m your daughter” and then running away to a ‘duff duff’ for my first episode has got to be up there. I also loved all the times her friends gave her a makeover, but she never ended up looking quite right… Her brief bout of kleptomania and stealing toilet brushes was interesting. I was very lucky to have worked with the actors I had storylines with so personally those were all my favourite moments that I learnt a lot from.
Do you remember how you felt booking the role as your first series regular and how was it meeting the cast for the first time?
I remember it vividly, I was working at my bar job (one of three jobs I was working at the time), my agent called and started playing the theme tune down the phone, I couldn’t believe it! My first day at EastEnders was a company meeting so the entire cast were in a room and it was completely surreal as I had grown up watching EastEnders.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and have you seen any TV shows or films recently you would recommend?
There has been some amazing television out since lockdown and there hasn’t been much else to do so my list of faves is pretty long:
I May Destroy You
Little Fires Everywhere
It’s a Sin
This Way Up
The Morning Show
ALL SO GOOD!
What are you looking forward to most for when the industry can return fully?
A friend of mine has been waiting for a year to start on a theatre job and I cannot wait until we can go and see her in it, scream at the curtain call and hug after knowing that this pandemic really is behind us.
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