This year, Jayne McKenna has had guest roles in Casualty as Penny Nielsen and episodes of Coronation Street as Julia Frazier, and in 2022, she played Janet Telby in the Peter James screen adaptation of Grace. In Series 6 of Shetland, Jayne played recurring character Fiona Bedford, and in Silent Witness, she plays Julia, the ex wife of Dr. Thomas Chamberlain (played by Richard Lintern) in numerous episodes. Also working in voiceover and theatre, Jayne voices Mo in the CBeebies series Tee and Mo, and most recently on stage, she originated the role of Zoe from 2017 to 2019 in The Band on tour as well as in the West End, working closely with Take That and Lulu. Jayne met her husband Richard Dillane when they were both appearing in Double Indemnity, and amongst her numerous stage credits, she played Rose Narracott in National Theatre’s War Horse and worked with Terry Hands and Nicol Williamson in King Lear, and she is due to start work on an unannounced project. Answering our questions, Jayne spoke to us about her recent guest roles in Casualty, Coronation Street and Grace, playing Zoe in stage musical The Band and voicing Mo in CBeebies’ Tee and Mo.
In June, you guest-starred in an episode of Casualty as Penny Nielsen, can you tell us about your character and what was your episode like to film?
I really enjoyed working on Casualty. Penny is a strong-minded mum with a very sick kid. I got to work with Conor Morrissey directing me and he was brilliant. It’s not easy walking onto an established set to play a guest lead but I was certainly warmly welcomed.
How was it playing Julia Frazier in episodes of Coronation Street earlier this year?
Coronation Street was great fun with great people, a lot of talent in that cast. They all put so much into what they do, which can’t be easy when you’re on such a big show working every day. I had some fairly hefty dialogue, I’m very grateful to my friend Anna who helped me cram for it.
You played Janet Telby for a 2022 episode of Grace, what was it like working on a Peter James TV series?
I was a bit spoiled on Grace as I live in Brighton where the show is based. It was the quickest commute to work I’ve ever had. I haven’t actually read the books but John Simm is an exceptional actor and when/if I do read them, I will only see his face in the role. Again, another fab director – Kate Saxon.
What was it like joining the cast of Shetland for Series 6 as Fiona Bedford and how was it filming your storyline?
Shetland was just joyous, it stretched out a fair bit so I had a few trips up to Scotland. Fiona was interesting to play as she was having an affair but was older than the wife. I liked that they chose to do that as so often it’s just formulaic older man, younger woman. The countryside was breathtaking, though the propeller plane journey to get there was a bit white knuckle, I’m not the best flyer.
Can you tell us about your time playing Julia Chamberlain in Silent Witness, and how was it returning to the show for Series 21?
Silent Witness was just little visits in and out for me as the ex wife, but who wouldn’t want to work with Richard Lintern, he’s hilarious.
As a voiceover actor, you starred as Mo in Tee and Mo for CBeebies, how did you find the experience recording for the show and what was it like getting into character?
I’m immensely proud to be Mo in Tee and Mo. It’s a complete heart project for me. They are a beautiful representation of a single mum bringing up her boy. Dominic Minns, who created it, is a genius and we had the greatest laughs recording it. I am completely invested in it and would drop anything to go do it when they ask me, plus my boys love telling little children that Mo is their mum.
Most recently on stage, you were in the cast of The Band from 2017 to 2019, what was Zoe like to play and was there anything that drew you to the role?
The Band feels like a lifetime ago. Zoe is a mum of boys like me, there is a lot of my own story in her as I, along with the other cast, originated the roles. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that job. I was surprised when my agent rang me about it because, although I am a singer, I had never been in a musical but it felt good to diversify especially in your 40s.
How was it working with the rest of the cast and Take That, and being part of the world premiere?
Those of us who were in it originally will always feel that it’s our baby. We got to perform with Take That and Lulu and rock out every night, not many people can say that. Take That were great to work for and, again, we laughed a lot!
What are some of your stand-out memories from playing Zoe in The Band on tour and in the West End?
There was great chemistry between the four women in the show. The stand-out memory is that we really sparked when we were on stage and the audience loved us and could completely relate to us. Every night we would come out at the stage door to lots of people crying and cheering and telling us that we represented them. It’s an experience I will cherish (see how I didn’t say Never Forget!).
You previously played Rose Narracott in War Horse at the National Theatre, how was this?
Everyone who saw War Horse was incredibly moved by it, it still gets the biggest reaction when I tell people I was in it. It was a tough slog to do it for a year but I wouldn’t change a thing. There was magic in that show and we were all invested in telling Michael’s (Morpurgo) beautiful story. We felt incredibly proud to be part of it and wanted to be the best every night for him. Our Narracott family was very special and Colm Gormley (Ted), James Backway (Albert) and I all really loved each other and have stayed friends ever since. They were diamonds to work with.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve worked on over your career so far and do you have any favourite highlights?
Many years ago, I did a production of Double Indemnity and met my husband, so that’s got to be the stand out.
I also did King Lear with the late greats Terry Hands and Nicol Williamson, that was an extraordinary experience. My brief stint in Bollywood was pretty special too.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
It said on my primary school report card ‘Jayne loves to act’. I think it was nature not nurture.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your free time?
Sucession, Sucession, Sucession (did I mention Sucession?).
I have lots of hobbies. I got into running during COVID and it’s a favourite, not sure mothering is classed as a hobby but a lot of my free time is spent with my three sons.
What do you enjoy most about working in the acting industry?
The process, the people and the pay check!
Do you have any projects coming up that you can tell us about and what are you hoping the rest of the year brings for you?
I’m about to start working on something pretty exciting, it’s early days so I shouldn’t say too much. I hope this year brings the right resolution to the SAG-AFTRA strike and its members get what they are striking for. Oh, and world peace, of course.
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