WHEN Still Game star Jane McCarry heard about a new musical comedy set in a bingo hall, she was desperate to be involved.
There was just one problem – she was in panto and couldn’t make the audition, so had to send a video using husband Robert as her co-star.
“I’m a big fan of the show’s writers, Anita Vettesse and Johnny McKnight, so as soon as I heard about it I wanted to be seen,” smiled Jane, who plays nosy neighbour Isa in the BBC comedy.
“I asked Robert – who’s a painter and decorator, the most West of Scotland man you can imagine and the worst actor ever – to read the lines of the other characters for me to react to, but we had to keep doing it over and over because he was so bad.
“The one decent take he did, the dog and cat started fighting in the middle of it and the kids were shouting in the background about their Xbox, but it was the best we had so I just sent it.
“Maybe it added to the atmosphere, because I got the part.”
Jane plays bingo caller Betty alongside other well-known actors such as Rab C. Nesbitt’s Barbara Rafferty, Killing Me Softly’s Wendy Seager and Louise McCarthy of Scot Squad.
There is singing, dancing and laughs, but it touches on serious issues as well as capturing the unique atmosphere of the bingo.
“I’d not been to the bingo in ages, but all the actors went along recently,” the 47-year-old continued.
“For a while, people thought the bingo might fade away but that hasn’t happened. There’s a real sense of community.
“It’s all chat during the interval and afterwards, but it’s really serious during the games – you can hear a pin drop.
“It feels like you’ll never win the pools or lottery, but every night someone wins at the bingo.
“Robert’s auntie won the national about 20 years ago and got £43,000. We had a good fish tea that night!
“It was a big deal and she was able to buy her council house.
“The show covers serious themes as well. One of the characters feels a win would get her out of a hole and there is social comment about people trying to escape debt.
“Barbara Rafferty’s character catches her husband having an affair and comes into the bingo in a daze, everything she’s put up with over the years coming to a head.”
Bingo! begins with a stretch of dates in Edinburgh before moving to intimate theatres in Stirling, Ayr, Musselburgh and Glasgow.
Playing to a few hundred people every night will be a much different experience than 12,000 in the Hydro with Still Game.
“I actually find smaller places scarier, because you can see the audience’s faces,” Jane said.
“The second Still Game, with all the dancers and the huge set, was a life-changing experience and I thought, ‘I might never do something like this again, so I want to love every second of it’. So I did!
“I was 31 when I started on Still Game, so it’s been a huge part of my life and the boys are like my family.”
But Jane’s fame isn’t a big deal to her real family, 16 and 13-year-old sons, Iain and Alexander.
“They were backstage at the Hydro with their pals, like it was the most normal thing.
“They loved it and have been on set loads over the years – in fact, I was feeding them as Isa, so they might not be intimidated but they’ll be traumatised!
“They’re both quite shy about it at school and play everything down – everything is still so embarrassing.
“When I came out in the second stage show wearing a PVC suit my eldest was mortified – and that’s before you get to some of the things I’ve had to say over the years.”
Jane has been a school drama teacher over the years and liked to keep her hand in when she could, but the success of Still Game means it’s no longer possible.
A new series was filmed last summer and it will be shown from March 8, but Jane admitted to a sense of frustration while the cast waited for it to be scheduled.
“We thought it was going to be on in November. Everyone kept asking us when it was starting and we genuinely didn’t know.”
The wait is almost over, but in the meantime Jane will just need to make do with a night at the bingo.
Bingo! Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, Mar 6-17
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