• Series Synopsis
• Episodes 1-6
Press pack interviews
• Bridget Christie interview (Linda)
• Susan Lynch interview (Agnes)
• Tanya Moodie interview (Joy)
• Jerome Flynn interview (Pig Man)
• Liza Tarbuck interview (Siobhan)
• Paul Whitehouse interview (Tony)
• Monica Dolan interview (Carmel)
• Jim Howick interview (The Verderer)
• Omid Djalili interview (Steve)
Who is she? What is she? Is this it? Convinced she’s got early onset dementia after forgetting what a shoe is called, Linda's GP informs her it is, in fact, the menopause. Feeling invigorated and empowered by this information, Linda decides to claw back some of the time she's spent doing 'invisible work' over the years (not all 3.5 million minutes, just 131,500 of them) and do something for herself... for a change. Dusting off her old Triumph motorbike that she hasn’t ridden in 30 years, Linda sets off alone to the spectacular wilderness of The Forest of Dean – in search of an identity, a purpose, and a tree she climbed as a child. Along the way she meets an array of eccentric locals, including the infamous Eel Sisters, an angry local radio presenter and a mysterious man who lives in the woods with the wild boar. What could possibly go wrong?
Episode Synopsis -
Linda, a 50-year-old, married mother of two, is convinced she’s got early onset dementia after forgetting what a shoe is called. But when her GP tells her it is, in fact, the menopause, she feels invigorated and empowered by this information and decides to claw back some of the time she’s spent doing ‘invisible work’ over the years and do something for herself for a change.
Dusting off her old Triumph, she heads to the Forest of Dean to find a time capsule she hid in a tree as a child, in an attempt to reconnect with the person that she used to be.
The first people she meets are the formidable Eel Sisters, who run the Eel Café and who are adored by the men of the town. They reluctantly agree to let Linda rent their caravan on the agreement that she cleans it up first. Ironically, Linda is already cleaning, but this time she’s doing it on her own terms, and for herself.
Linda spends her first night in her new home at the local pub, where she meets Tony. A man of simple pleasures, born and bred in the forest, he’s rarely challenged on his outdated, often problematic points of view, but when he is, it tends to not take much to get him on side.
However, on her first day in town, Linda inadvertently sets in motion a white lie which quickly snowballs…
In the hunt for her childhood time capsule, Linda discovers that the forest community is a far cry from the world she’s left behind, from the eccentric Eel Sisters, and a man who lives in the woods with the wild boar, to the outspoken Verderer, local disaffected teen Ryan and artist and DJ Joy.
Linda heads off into the forest in search of her time capsule which she hid up an old oak tree 40 years ago – armed only with an OS map and a prayer to St Anthony. But her prayers are answered more quickly than she expected.
The moment is soon broken by the arrival of ‘Pig Man’ (as he’s known to his friends). A reclusive figure who lives a solitary, self-sufficient life in the forest with only the wild boar for company, Pig Man gave up a job in the city after a devastating life event and now lives a frugal life off-grid with frothy coffee being his only extravagance.
But it turns out Linda might not be the only person with secrets as it’s revealed that Pig Man might know more about the time capsule than he’s letting on…
The town is busy preparing for the annual Town Meeting – a highlight of the year and even more pressing this year with the Eel Sisters announcing that this year’s Eel Festival will be led by an Eel Queen rather than the traditional Eel King – news that is dividing the town as much as the threat of developers building over parts of the forest.
But with her tree found and the time capsule missing, Linda starts to question whether it’s time to return home. A hunt for a leaving present for Pig Man finds her stumbling upon some feminist literature in the charity shop, and she is astounded to find that Simone de Beauvoir’s words chime with her own experience of the futility of housework. When she discovers an eviction notice on Pig Man’s cave, she hurries to the Town Meeting with the proof that the developers are pushing ahead with plans, unbeknownst to the locals.
Realising that her beloved forest is under threat gives Linda a renewed sense of purpose and a place in the community.
Linda receives some unexpected and emotional information from Pig Man, and an explosive visit from her sister Siobhan, who’s furious about Linda’s decision to have time away from Steve and the kids. Long-supressed frustrations bubble up between the sisters, and Linda finds herself finally taking a stand against the domineering Siobhan.
The Eel Sisters take matters into their own hands with the proposed development through the forest, buying the community some time. The Verderer, meanwhile, is taking no chances and has decamped to the beloved oak tree to keep the developers at bay for as long as he can.
Ryan makes a big decision about his unexpected inheritance, and the Eel sisters now turn their attention to the forthcoming Eel Festival and who they will crown the inaugural Eel Queen.
It’s Festival Eve and Linda, Joy, Carmel and Agnes are putting the final preparations into place. Spirits are high and the four women bond over their shared experiences of the female experience for the first time. Linda is thrilled and moved to be invited to take part and be privy to these women’s secrets – some more shocking than others. It’s only tainted by Linda’s inner turmoil about lying to these women who have quickly become her friends.
It’s the day of the annual Eel Festival – reclaimed this year by the Eel Sisters as a celebration of what it means to be a woman, with puberty, the menopause and rebirth at the centre of the festivities.
The Verderer is made an honorary ‘Eel Child’ to recognise everything he’s done to save the forest. He comes down from his makeshift camp in the tree to take part, and Pig Man agrees holds the fort while he’s gone.
It’s beautiful and Linda has never felt so seen, and so much part of a community before, but the harmony is about to be broken…
Bridget Christie interview (Linda) -
The Change is a comedy drama about Linda, a 50-year-old, married, working-class, mother-of-two who’s having an existential crisis prompted by the menopause. After realising how much time she’s spent doing invisible work for those around her, she jumps on her motorbike and returns to the Forest of Dean, where she spent time as a child. Bridget, you star as Linda, but you also wrote and produced the series. What was your original vision for The Change?
I wanted to create a show with an ordinary, relatable story at its heart, but place it in an extraordinary setting, to capture the mundanity of our day to day lives but also the magic and beauty all around us that we miss because we’re too busy to notice. So, we have two contrasting worlds - one of grey, suburban domesticity and the other of vivid, rural community life. I spent a lot of time as a child in the 1970s in the Forest of Dean, not far from where I grew up in Gloucester, and it holds a very special place in my heart. It’s a unique part of the world, both in terms of its outstanding natural beauty but also in that it has a very specific identity – one that is very hard for people to understand unless they’ve been there. It hasn’t been gentrified because of its transport links and it hasn’t been overdeveloped because of strict planning laws, so it has this timeless quality to it. Also, as a child, it always felt a little bit American to me, partly because of the majestic pine and redwoods, but also because of the way people dressed - men would be wearing checked shirts and baseball caps or cowboy hats, and I always remember an old Chevy parked up somewhere. This is why The Change has that slightly Americana feel to it, whilst at the same time being quintessentially British. I’ve tried to take my childhood memories of a specific time and place and put them on screen. I took a lot of inspiration from films of that era, like Deliverance and The Deer Hunter, where the sense of place and community is so integral to the story, where you think of the landscape not just as a location, but as a character too. We used particular lenses and colour palette and shot it in a certain ratio to give it that cinematic quality. I wanted to make people feel nostalgic but to not know why. Basically, the show is a love letter to the Forest of Dean and to women, borne out of my childhood memories.
In your most recent stand-up show, Who Am I? you discussed the fact that there aren't enough menopausal characters on TV, and that menopause isn't discussed enough in mainstream culture. Why do we need more menopausal characters?
Menopause is huge. Every single woman on the planet will go through it. Every single person on the planet will, by association, be affected by it, whether it’s your mother, wife, daughter, sister, niece, auntie, whoever, and so it seems absurd we’re not seeing many female characters going through it. A huge part of us has been erased. When it happened to me, I didn’t know my symptoms were caused by the menopause. I’ve got five older sisters and I never talked to them about theirs. My mum had a very difficult, never-ending menopause but we only talked about it on a very superficial level I never asked her how she felt or if I could help in any way. I wasn’t as empathetic or as supportive as I could or should have been and I regret that. In lockdown I started looking at every older woman I saw out and about and thinking: Did you go through it by yourself? Did you talk to anybody? Did you have to give up work? Did your family support you? I felt an overwhelming sadness, imagining them battling through it alone, perhaps embarrassed or humiliated at work, or ignored by their families, but I also felt angry. Of course, there will be manywomen who go through menopause with love and support from their families and friends and colleagues, but many won’t. I’d like that to change. Talking about it more openly, both privately and publicly and seeing ourselves on screen can only help. It was important to me that Linda took control of her menopause and used it as a catalyst to change her life in a positive way, because I think the menopause is generally seen as a negative thing, , and while a lot of women will struggle, many won’t, and we need to see more of that. We need to stop fearing it and give young women the knowledge and tools to handle it better than previous generations.
It is changing… Davina McCall’s documentary made a huge difference in terms of public awareness, there are campaigns now and lobbying for policy changes for menopausal women in the workplace and better access to HRT but there’s still a way to go
How will The Change help to fill that space?
Our protagonist is a menopausal woman who takes back control of her life and goes off on a journey of self-discovery. We are seeing more and more older women in lead roles and that’s obviously fantastic but there’s still a way to go – but the menopause is never written into those storylines. We don’t often see them having symptoms or talking to other female characters or their partners or work colleagues about it. So, while it’s great we’re seeing more and more older women taking these central parts, a big part of them has been erased. The menopause is still this invisible thing on screen, and when it is written into a storyline, it’s not usually done as explicitly as it is here, where it’s at the heart of the story.
How much has your own life and your experience of the menopause fed into the writing of the show?
I had the same menopause symptoms as Linda but in terms of my own life, not much of it bled into the show. I did go to the Forest of Dean as a child, I do ride a motorbike and I do have two children, but all my sisters are lovely and I have a job that I love and find very fulfilling, so I never felt like I’d lost my path in life or my identity. I am very lucky in that sense. Most people don’t have jobs that they enjoy and find themselves in middle-age having lost sight of who they are and their sense of purpose. I do wish I’d started writing a chore ledger years ago, but I only thought about it when I started writing the show!
Tell us about creating the different characters. Who did you have most fun writing, and which character was most challenging to write?
It was an absolute joy creating and writing all the characters. The Change is the first comedy drama I’ve written. I’m a stand up and so I’ve only ever really written for myself, so I found it hugely creatively satisfying, getting inside their heads and thinking about what they’d say and do. None of the characters are based on real people so I felt I could really make them say anything and it was joyful when it came to casting them all. And what a cast, my God! I have to say all the characters were fun to write, and I genuinely don’t have a favourite, but because Tony (Paul Whitehouse) and the Verderer (Jim Howick) are the most extreme characters, who say the most extreme things, I did have a lot of fun coming up with terrible things for them to say. I felt like I really got to know all the characters well and found it so interesting when something I’d written for them just wasn’t right. You immediately know when it’s wrong when they just wouldn’t say something like that. It’s almost like you have a duty not to misrepresent them. Fascinating process. I also found it interesting how some characters were better suited for carrying big storylines and others were better on the periphery and dropped in and out when needed. I would say Linda was the most challenging to write as she has to carry the show whilst not overshadowing everyone else, be believable but also funny, go through various stages of development, ride a motorbike, quickly, over uneven forest tracks, be dunked underwater, wear a massive headdress and cloak in boiling hot weather and be dragged out of a caravan, kicking and screaming.
When it came to casting the stars of the show, alongside you playing Linda, the characters of Joy, Agnes and Carmel are all played by women around 50. Why was it crucial that both the stars and characters are women of this age? Is it rare to find that on TV?
It was really important to me that Linda, and all the female characters in the show, were women over 50 played by actors over 50, because we don’t often see that, and we should. When I think about all of the most impressive people I know, both personally and publicly, they are increasingly women over 50 and I just think that should be reflected on screen more. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It isn’t difficult to find inspiration! And why are women still being cast in parts that are either much younger or much older than them? Infuriating.
Characters in the show are brought together in the fight to protect nature. Tell us about the environmental themes in The Change and why you wanted this to be a facet of the story?
Climate change is the biggest threat we are facing, and the more we can talk about that the better. It’s easy for us to think that we as individuals can’t make any difference, that it’s hopeless and we’re out of time, but we must have hope. We can make a difference. We can change our diets, our lifestyles, we can buy products that don’t harm animals or the environment, we can join marches and protests, we can make art and we can TALK about it. I’m lucky enough to be a writer/performer with a platform and it seems a huge waste not to use it for the greater good. I’ve been so inspired by human stories of individual bravery, both local to where I live in Hackney and of those up and down the country, people standing up for what they believe in, people just wanting to protect our planet for future generations. I wanted to show how passionate and angry people are about the destruction we are causing - cutting down our ancient forests and woodlands, polluting our rivers and seas, investing in fossil fuels, the list just goes on and on. Human emotion can be a very powerful thing. I don’t believe this government, or the majority of the British media are doing their bit. The message isn’t getting through, but stories can. Stories are what connect us, stories have the power to change hearts and minds. I hope mine does.
In some small way. The series culminates with the Eel Festival – a local tradition where the forest people come together to celebrate. After years of Eel Kings, Linda becomes the first Eel Queen, and the festivalgoers celebrate the different stages of a woman’s life, repeating the mantra: ‘May all your transitions be joyful!’.
Tell us about the ideas behind the festival itself and why you wanted to depict the community coming together to celebrate the life journey of women?
I always wanted to end the series with a folk festival. I just didn’t know what it would look like. Eels were the obvious thing to use as they are such a big part of the community, but I also wanted the festival to be a celebration of women – and I struggled for a long time to find that connection - between eels and women, but then I found out about the bizarre life cycle of eels – they are all born in the Sargasso Sea, and they only choose what gender to be when they decide to return to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce and die. So, I had the idea that we could mark the biological stages of a woman’s life. So, we have puberty, menopause, and rebirth, when she finally returns to her true self. The stations idea came from my Catholic upbringing and the Good Friday tradition of the Stations of the Cross, where the journey of Jesus’s crucifixion is depicted in a series of images. I always found it very powerful and profound and thought it would be a good way of depicting the burden of womanhood. I also wanted it to be very female led as historically, women haven’t been a big part of our folk festivals and rituals, they’ve tended to be very male dominated and patriarchal, so it was important to me that women were at the heart of the Eel Festival, not just in terms of the themes, but also in the imagery, so we have an Eel Queen and female Morris dancers.
British folklore and folk music are an important part of the look and feel of the series.
Tell us how you wove these themes into The Change?
During lockdown, I suddenly realised how much I loved my country. How rich in history and culture it is, how beautiful our landscape is, and how great as a people we can be. I felt very patriotic, and I realised that since Brexit, being patriotic is seen as a bad thing and I wanted to reclaim it. Weaving British folklore and folk music into the show seemed like the best way of doing that. Brexit was a disaster for this country. It tore families apart and divided communities. I’m not sure we’ve fully recovered from that, and it still makes me furious, but our festivals give us an opportunity to forget about our differences. I love the fact that on certain days of the year, up and down the country, we dress up in mad costumes, put bells on our ankles, get the fiddles out, drink warm bitter, and celebrate this magical land of ours.
Do you have a favourite scene?
No! The town hall meeting maybe? The baptism? Honestly, I don’t think I can pick a favourite.
This is your first time writing and starring in your own TV series. How have you found it, and what are your highlights from this whole experience?
I’ve found it the most professionally rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Getting a TV show off the ground is one of the most arduous, difficult things to do in this industry. There are so few slots and so many of us and the process is very, very long, but I have genuinely loved every minute of it. I’ve been very lucky with my executive producers at Expectation (Nerys Evans, who was there right from the beginning, many years ago, and the show would be rubbish without Morwenna Gordon who was with me on the scripts night and day) and with Channel 4 who gave great feedback as well as the creative freedom to realise my vision for the show. It’s been genuinely life-affirming. I don’t think I could pick a highlight to be honest but filming with my beautiful cast and crew and then seeing the final episodes, all scored and graded was a very special moment.
You talked about your original vision for story and the look and feel of this series. Is the final product what you'd always hoped it would be?
What do you hope viewers will take away from The Change?
I hope the themes of the show resonate with people and I hope they finish the series with hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies. That they feel inspired to make changes in their own lives and I hope there is a household chore revolution!
Susan Lynch interview (Agnes)-
Susan, you play Agnes, one of the eel sisters who run the Eel Café and are central to the Forest of Dean community that our main character Linda finds herself in. You joined the cast quite last-minute – tell us how you were brought onto the project?
A key member of the cast got COVID, which must have been devastating for her and for the whole cast. So, I came on board. I got the email the day before, so it was a case of trying to read as much as I could in one night. I ended up just trying to learn the scene that I was about to do and trying to prepare the accent. It’s a really difficult thing, taking over from someone who had already done all the work, but I was given such support by everyone. The whole cast were just so incredibly supportive and warm.
When you’d had a chance to absorb the whole story of The Change, how did you feel about Bridget’s vision for the show?
The scripts are just so bloody brilliant, they’re magical. Bridget is just… there aren't enough adjectives to describe her. She's one of the most creative, inspiring, compassionate human beings I've ever met, and she is hilariously funny. She does everything with a lightness of touch. This story and the way she’s put all these women in their 50s together and shared their wisdom with such humour is inspiring. Each of the characters have got their own innate wisdom and they're all really colourful.
When we filmed the Eel Festival scenes, there were moments where I was really tearful. Some of it is very, very funny, but some of it is so moving. I was standing there thinking this is incredible, you’ve never seen this before, a celebration of women done with such humour. And not just about women, but about the idiosyncrasies of community and how more than ever, community is what we really need. If you’re dealing with the menopause in isolation, that's when it's really difficult. You’ve got this woman running off to the forest and finding this eccentric community, and then coming to terms with everything that she is as a woman and celebrating that with this community – I felt very touched by the whole thing.
You were filming in the Forest of Dean and surrounding areas – what was that experience like?
Where we filmed was so beautiful, really magical. Sometimes you’d turn up on set and the light through the trees was just stunning. Because so much of the show is about reconnecting to nature, we did that organically by being on that set. It reminds me a bit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where they all run off into the forest and find themselves. It really has got that very magical, heightened quality to it. I found it really inspiring.
Obviously, there was not that much time to prepare before the first day of filming, but what were your first impressions of your character Agnes? How did that develop as you spent more time filming, and what did you think of the relationship between Agnes and her eel sister Carmel [played by Monica Dolan]?
I love Monica Dolan, so to play her sister was just so fab. She’s just effortlessly good. My character starts off quite tough. If you come into the community, she's going to be really wary of you until you prove yourself and then as the story unfolds, you start to see more of a softer side to her. You start to see her celebrating in the Eel Festival, and really celebrating Linda as the Eel Queen. She’s so of the earth, she believes in nature and the power of nature. She’s also quite sardonic. There were really lovely juxtapositions in her, in terms of her humour and her cynicism. It was a great role. I loved how we looked too, with our caps, the whole look. Then when she goes to the Eel Festival, she’s wearing the sheela na gig and celebrating fertility. She does that with a fierceness, but I love the softer bits to her as well. She unfolded as the story went on.
You mentioned getting to grips with the accent. You have a Northern Irish accent, but your character Agnes has spent her whole life in the Forest of Dean. How did you find her voice?
Weirdly, I’ve lived near the Forest of Dean for about 12 years. So, I was using that and trying to really tune in, but it’s never an accent I’ve done before. Out of all the accents I’ve done I found this most difficult. Some bits are quite similar to Irish, then other bits are just not at all, so I did find it really difficult. I was just keying into everyone else, especially Monica because she was just brilliant at it.
The idea of community is a strong theme throughout the series, especially for Agnes and her sister. What do you think the show says about community but particularly, community between women – sisterhood and friendship?
Where I live, there is quite big senses of community. I don't know whether that is a rural thing, where because people are slightly far apart, they do make an effort as a community. In the show, what’s really beautiful is the women coming together and sharing stories. I love episode five where it’s just about the women preparing for the festival and they’re sat talking about so many things, the tiny exchanges between women, about their mothers, how they look, how they feel. It’s a celebration. The whole show celebrates that we are stronger together than we are apart. I know that sounds like a really cliché, obvious thing to say about community, but there is something moving about that, especially now after COVID, because we all sensed what it was like to be isolated. It’s also about remembering that nature comes first. We’re just little things that go in and out of nature, we are not the big picture.
The Change is a celebration of women, community and nature. And the arc of the female journey. It’s alright to say you’re not alright and things are difficult when you’re going through the menopause. The beauty of what Bridget’s written with the Eel Festival is that it goes into detail about puberty and menopause. Menopause has maybe been touched on in different TV programmes, but I don't think there's much detail of what actually happens. I love that there's a celebration of the grey bits of being a woman. It doesn’t sound preachy, it’s a celebration, it’s saying: this is what we all go through, and because we all go through it, we shouldn't feel isolated.
Speaking about the Eel Festival, like you said, it is funny, but it is quite poignant too. During the festival, characters discuss puberty and menopause and repeat the line ‘May all your transitions be joyful’. Did that resonate with you?
It did because it's so easy to not think of your transitions as joyful. It's so easy when you're going through puberty, to be thinking I'm different, I feel insecure, I'm ugly. Then you look back when you’re 30 and go: what was I thinking? I was absolutely beautiful. I was just like everyone else. In the festival, older women are saying to younger women: it’s alright. That’s what I really love about it. I don't think there's been anything like this that’s so celebratory of women, and the journey of women. Bridget is so extraordinarily imaginative, you just have to look at her stand-up comedy to see that, and her imagination and creativity has created something about women's journeys and community without it being ‘them and us’. In bits of the Eel Festival, there’s retorts from the men and she’s written it so it feels like it’s for everyone, it’s inclusive of men. It’s really beautifully done, because it’s emphasising that community is about us all and if we’re going through certain things, it affects everyone.
Agnes and Carmel, as their nickname ‘the eel sisters’ suggests, have to deal with eels a lot in the series. What did you think about that aspect of the story?
Coming out of the water in the waders and getting into the whole thing of being an eel woman was very, very funny. I had big plastic eels – there’s a bit where I’m hammering the eels and I was trying to wriggle them to make them look real. That was hilarious. I didn't have to eat any eels thank god, that would be too much. But the Eel Café was so beautiful. Everything looks like a beautiful little mirage in the middle of the forest.
What was your favourite scene?
My favourite scene was the one where Agnes and Carmel get Linda out of the caravan. It is so hilariously funny. It was funny when we were shooting it, but seeing it, I absolutely peed my pants laughing at that. And I love the first scene actually, where you first meet the sisters. That was the first scene I did. It was amazing to be in something where there's just loads of other amazing women. To be around them and that energy was really, really special.
All the stars of the show are women who are aged around 50, playing characters who are their own age. What do you think of that casting decision?
In episode five, the women sat around just talking about being women in a very natural way was really unusual. It's funny, it's only when you do something like this that you realise there aren't many things where you've actually been with a group of women. I’ve done a couple of plays that are mainly women, but on TV, it’s a real first. To be tackling these kinds of topics as well and the pride of being every different kind of woman, that in itself was really refreshing.
And were there any other behind the scenes highlights for you?
Just the warmth of everybody. There was a real sense of community and I think that came from Bridget, because that's the kind of person she is. She's got an amazing spirit that infects everyone, and that made everyone come together in a really, really special way. So, for me it was the whole spirit of it, so much of it came from her and I can’t praise her enough. She’s just a really inspiring woman.
You've mentioned some of the big themes and the way the show's tackled them, but what do you hope that viewers will take away from the series once they've watched it?
I hope they absolutely pee themselves laughing, as I have done when I've been reading the scenes, and I hope they really enjoy it. But I really do hope that they, as I feel I have through doing the series, celebrate the idea of being female. And that goes for men as well as women, I hope the show becomes a celebration of women. I'm excited for people to see it. There’s something so refreshing and new about it and some bits that are really moving.
I hope that viewers think about community and of us all talking more about puberty, about menopause, and for women to realise that confiding in each other will always make us stronger than going through these things on our own. If you keep it to yourself, you’re isolated. But if you share, you see these things are part of us. Like now, I’m perimenopausal and I’m very open talking about it because I don’t actually know what’s happening. But if I talk about it with people, I’m not on my own. It makes you feel connected.
Tanya Moodie interview (Joy)-
When did you first get involved with The Change? What did you think about the story and its overarching themes of menopause and self-discovery?
Bridget and I first came across each other at the Southbank Awards in 2021. She was presenting an award and I was just running around in a sequinned jumpsuit making a nuisance of myself. Later that year I did a show at The National Theatre called Trouble In Mind. One night there was a woman sitting in the front row with a girl about 12 years old. I always noticed children at that play because although it was hugely educational, it was a very political play, so not a natural choice for a family outing. I remember thinking ‘That mum’s brilliant’. Then I got a phone call saying: ‘Bridget wants to meet with you about an idea for a show’. When we met, she said ‘I came to see the play with my daughter’. I was like: ‘That was you!’
She said: ‘I’m writing a show exploring women in their 50s going through the menopause.’ We haven’t really looked at those issues before. It centres around her character who goes to the Forest of Dean on this quest to find a time capsule. I thought it was brilliant. I wanted to talk about how challenging the menopause is for many of us. She’s done that in such a humorous way. It’s not preachy, it’s just really funny.
Do you feel like there's been a lack of storylines about the menopause and menopausal characters on screen?
I haven’t personally come across it. There are more narratives that include women of my age group, but no one’s talking about what’s going on in their knickers. I’m always wondering, when there’s a scene with two women in their 50s, why no one’s gotten up to go to the loo five times! Ironically, during filming I actually was terribly ill with it, but I didn’t know. I felt absolutely drained and exhausted. During perimenopause you can get flooding [heavy bleeding] and it turned out that I’d lost about 20% of my blood supply. Between scenes, I’d have to sit down. I was really embarrassed but I just made a joke of it, ‘Well, you know, perimenopause, what a coincidence’.
So it was a running joke that Tanya’s going through perimenopause, so she’s knackered all the time. It was really timely that it was while I was doing that show, I was surrounded by people that had personal knowledge of menopause and also had the compassion and the levity to embrace the fact that I was not myself. Perimenopausal symptoms can take you out, can totally upend you, and you’re just going along like ‘Oh no I’m fine, I just need to sit down’. I’ve since had a hysterectomy because my symptoms were so debilitating.
Do you feel like it will be helpful to other women to see this representation of menopause on screen?
For me personally, if I were to see it advertised in the TV guide, a comedy based around women in midlife going through menopause, set in the Forest of Dean, with all these actors, I would be there with bells on. I don’t think it’s going to put off men from seeing it, or people my daughter’s age who are Motherland fans, because it has actors like Jim Howick, beloved from Horrible Histories and Ghosts, and the brilliant Paul Whitehouse.
Before my symptoms began, I remember still feeling that strange procreational, hormonal grip. And then, this quiet descending on me. A quiet has come in. Obviously with perimenopause and menopause there’s a storm, a weird volcanic, tectonic shift. The menopause is a big deal. The options out there for us are not discussed enough. I never mind talking about these things because among viewers of the work I do, there’ll always be people who are going through this stuff. To say, ‘Yeah I had that’, can be really helpful.
Do you think people will learn stuff about the menopause that they never knew before?
Not on a medical level, necessarily. There are some things that are said as relatively light one-liners and for someone going through the menopause it makes you howl with laughter because that’s what it’s like: the memory lapses, the hot flushes or whatever. But it’s certainly not a lecture!
You play Joy in the series. She lives in the town Linda ends up in and is one of the first locals to welcome her to the community. She’s not a lifelong resident but has made a life for herself as a DJ on the local radio, spreading ideas of women’s empowerment and equality, as well as her love for folk music. What did you think of Joy when you first read her parts in the script?
I was in the makeup department during filming, and I sat next to the little girl who plays the young version of Bridget's character. I said, ‘Hello, I play Joy.’ She said, ‘Her name really suits her character’. I thought that was a really astute thing to say. It’s a really appropriate name for her. I really liked playing her.
She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of English folk music, which I do not. But I was a teenager in the 80s and I was hooked on artists like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Crosby, Stills and Nash. So, I could completely translate that vibe to her love of English folk.
I researched English folk music, looking at documentaries, and I found it utterly fascinating that the modern movement of English folk has a direct connection to African American blues music. It makes so much sense when you hear it, that they are cousins in musical heritage.
Then the way Joy is – I created a back story for her, out of her being in that town, doing what she’s doing at that time in her life and being a real part of the community, as the DJ. There's no question of her being foreign in any way. By foreign, I mean a Londoner. Her otherness in that community is more rooted in her being from London, as opposed to her ethnicity. No one thinks her ethnicity is important. The town/country distinction is more of a thing.
As well as going back through all this English folk music, what other preparation did you do for the role – where did you find inspiration for Joy?
She has a very peripatetic lifestyle, so the inspiration for that I took from my own life, from the early parts of my career as a young theatre actress, moving around the country. I decided that she was quite free as a middle-aged divorcee, that she has one child who’s an adult, so she has this freedom and independence that allowed Joy to really focus on what her passion is, which is English folk music and going to parts of the country where there is knowledge and appreciation of that. Then in this particular town where it’s set, she found out there was a vacancy at this radio station and pitched an idea for a show. Then decided to stay because it’s a lovely town.
The main characters are friends and they've got this supportive relationship. And Joy is the one who welcomes Linda to the forest community.
What do you think the show says about female friendship?
You're looking at female friendship from at a very particular time in a woman's life, which has a different flavour. Now that I’ve hit 50, when I meet other women the same age, I’m acutely aware of the types of things that they might be thinking about, where they've been and what they're going through. I have more of a sense of recognition. We share a lot of experiences.
The key roles in The Change are filled by women around the age of 50. Bridget has said in the past that she felt it was rare to see substantial roles for women of her age. Maybe that’s not as true for yourself, being on Motherland, but do you think that’s still an issue?
And what was it like getting the chance to work within this cast of women of the same age?
First and foremost, it was hilarious, because they're all really funny, interesting women. And we’re all going through similar stuff, so the second you’d say, ‘I’ve got my period’, you’d have 10 tampons thrown at you. Or someone would say ‘I’ll give you the name of my hormone doctor.’ Everyone's on the same page. I don't know how accurate it is to say at this particular point that there aren't many stories that focus on a narrative around women our age, because I see more and more. I know that it has been unusual up until a point, but now it feels like there’s a shift. I’m in Motherland where we’re all around the same age, but I also feel like I'm an outlier in that I happen to have done two shows like this, with women of this age, so maybe that's more of a fortunate fluke for me.
What were the most interesting points of filming for you, do you have any personal highlights from the making of the show?
I really liked the crossover between the women's relationships and our relationships as the actresses. There's a scene where it's Monica, Susan, Bridget and me in the forest and we're getting ready for the festival. I really liked that scene. The weather was fantastic. It was a laugh filming it and it was scripted for them to be having a laugh. Anytime any of us were worried about lines, it just felt good to reassure, to be a sisterhood and go: ‘Babes, you’ve got this. You’re so good. You’ve got this!’ We were always supporting each other inside the story and outside the story.
What message do you hope the viewers might take from the show?
First and foremost, I just want them to enjoy it and laugh. That’s why we watch things, to forget about how challenging it is right now across the board for everybody. Watch it and just laugh your tits off. Anytime I have seen things which mentioned menopausal symptoms, I've always been really grateful because I'm like, ‘Oh, I'm not going crazy, that is a thing.’ And it'd be great if everyone just knows now what perimenopause and menopause are, what the symptoms are and how they affect people. And it's nice that we do it with humour, as opposed to: you’re doomed!
Jerome Flynn interview (Pig Man)-
How did you get involved in The Change?
When the script first came to me, as is my wont, I was distracted by many things in my life back home in Wales. I didn’t really take in the essence of the story Bridget was trying to tell. And I wasn’t sure about the character, there was some nervousness about him being called Pig Man! So, I was initially reluctant to take it seriously and give time to it. Then Bridget wrote me a very beautiful letter, and I could really feel her heart in it. It made me go back to the script and I started to get a sense of the vision that had been burning inside her for so many years, which was so embedded in her own journey, and well, it touched me. I felt an affinity with her longing if you like, this shared yearning to reconnect with the indigenous way of life that we have strayed so far from.
Bridget’s letter got me back on track and I said: I’m going to do this. So, I jumped.
In the series, you play Pig Man, a former banker who suffered a personal loss and now lives off the grid in the Forest of Dean, protecting the wild boar who live there. As you learned more about the character, what did you think of Pig Man and how would you describe him to someone who hasn’t yet seen the show?
I've never worked in the city, but I related to his journey profoundly. He sees the emptiness of that lifestyle, and I saw a lot of myself in him. He’s a man who became disillusioned with the culture we have been born into in the west, where personal gain , making it in the world in order to have the things you think you need to be happy , well it’s a culture that I believe has increasingly disconnected us from our environment , from our own innate native wisdom,, from all the beings seen and unseen that we share this miraculous creation event with. His heart was broken, and he chose to go back into the forest and pour the love that he had lost into another family, the wild boars that roam the forest of dean. He channels his grief into caring for these creatures in the forest, but it’s more than that. My sense is that part of the authentic masculinity that we’ve strayed from is the impulse to protect and nurture life. Suddenly he hasn't got his own family to protect, he reads an article about the pigs being culled, and he’s gone there to protect them. I really connected with that.
He also saw a chance to live in the forest and return to the natural world. He is living with this immense grief, and I think he intuitively knows that returning to a more intimate connection with nature is the best way to accept and allow the grief to have its way with him. Our culture very much tends to sweep grief and mortality under the table, but for me, being real about the impermanence of all life, is a crucial part of living fully, of experiencing and valuing our every moment. I feel Pig Man is seeking true value.
Pig Man has dedicated his life to protecting the forest and its animals – you’ve long been an outspoken animal advocate, did this element of his story resonate with you?
In the last three years, a lot of the work that I’ve done for animal welfare was focused on the horrendous treatment of pigs. I fronted a documentary on Netflix called Hogwood and have recently been part of a campaign highlighting how our 90% of our pigs die in a horrendous way. For one of the protests, organised by Farms Not Factories, I got in a cage, in Oxford Circus, in the middle of the traffic. It was the size of a cage that the majority of our pigs spend their lives in, and we were raising awareness of this inhumane treatment. I even had some pretend piglets in there with me. So, it’s very bizarre – Bridget didn’t know anything about that when she asked me to take on the role of Pig Man. She’s picked up on something, so I thought, OK, I’m supposed to play this part.
Pig Man’s home and his initial meeting with Linda are filmed in the Forest of Dean. Did being on location help you connect with his story?
We wouldn't have been able to tell the story if we weren’t in the forest. It’s a completely natural backdrop, so being immersed in the real thing, and all the magic that a forest holds, rather than a studio or a set, well it was perfect. Something special happens when you’re in a forest. I obviously love nature. I was brought up in the country and I've been lucky enough to be able to move away from London and come back to that connection. It was magical to be in the forest and also it was during the really extreme heatwave last year, so the forest and its shade was the perfect place to be.
There is a very strong environmental storyline throughout the whole series as the character’s come together to protect the forest. How did you feel about that and what message do you hope viewers might take from it?
It’s inherent in Bridget’s journey and the journey that Linda, her character, has taken. If we lose our connection with the land we were born from and on, well the consequences of that are pretty huge to say the least, and we are of course now living in the midst of them – we have lost touch with the natural balance of things, and our part in that balance. At the heart of the story, it’s asking us to return, to remember, to reconnect with beings other than human. Every other plant and animal works within the natural balance of things, whereas we’ve been moving further and further away from that innate knowledge and wisdom. Thankfully, there are still indigenous cultures with that knowledge that haven’t been wiped out. Unless we realise that and take heed of that wisdom, then I think we know that we are in for a very rough ride, I mean it already feels heart-breaking what we are doing to our ecosystems, to each other, and to our beloved animals. We’re at a tipping point right now and a lot rests on it. Also personally, I don’t think we can experience a true joy of being, without reclaiming our innate human identity as not separate from all of nature.
Menopause is another strong theme in the series, as Linda’s adventure is sparked by the start of the menopause. What did you think of this thread?
Well, it was courageous and honest of Bridget to tell that story, and culturally important because so many women I'm sure will relate to it. And again, I think it connects back to how we have drifted away from our more natural, communal heritage. In many indigenous cultures, my understanding is that menopause is respected as a very important passage in a woman’s life as she moves into eldership, and often development of her shamanic wisdom. That’s something else we’ve forgotten – the importance of elders in our communities, how crucial that relationship is for the young ones as they find their way in the world, and for the adults approaching their own eldership (which basically means all of us). For the most part we have severed that precious lineage of lived experience and wisdom passed down through the generations.
So, when Linda’s menopause comes, it’s very natural for her to be like: I need to go back to where I felt my own connection to nature, when I felt most alive. Our image based, death denying culture, where 70 is the new 50 kind of thing almost shuns menopause rather than respecting it for its deeper value, as we strive to stretch our youthfulness into new realms.
You mentioned that Pig Man once sought value and masculinity in the world of finance and material objects, but that his concepts of value and masculinity changed after a personal tragedy. In The Change, he is the most obviously positive male figure in the show. Is that something that came across to you and how do you think he is differentiated from some of the other men in the series?
I do think he’s a positive male role model. The crisis he experienced brought him to make this change, as is often the gift of crisis. So, for him it’s an initiation of sorts. The other guys to different extents perhaps still identify more with our white material culture’s distorted idea of masculinity, of what it means to be successful, to fit in and make it in what is in many ways a life destructive culture. So yes, I think Pig Man has rejected that whole conceit that we are sold of what it is to be a man.
Aesthetically, Pig Man is different too, he has a very distinct style.
Tell us about the outfits you wore during filming and how they reflected Pig Man’s lifestyle?
I was pleased how it ended up – it’s quite Raiders of the Lost Ark and I like that! You could say he's on a sort of a journey of exploration back to who he truly is, and that’s a very holy grail. I was really pleased with his outfits. It was such a hot summer and he had cut-off shirts, thank God. It’s practical as well – he’s got lots of little gizmos and horns and whistles to call his pigs, then combat trousers and a jacket a bit like my dad used to wear. He likes to be barefoot when he can as well, which is nice because he gets to connect directly with the earth’s energy.
Do you have a favourite Pig Man scene from the series?
I think it’s the first scene, when he turns up and finds Linda up that tree. It was such a lovely scene to shoot. Bridget was making me laugh and it was very sweet. There was a connection happening there.
We talked about a few of the wider messages running through the series. What do you hope viewers will take away from The Change as a whole series?
I hope they take away the importance of connecting with our authentic human nature as not separate from the natural world, as part of the interconnected web of life that we could not be separate from. The importance of relationships – with nature and with each other – and the value of true relationships where we don’t have to pretend that we’re anybody other than who we are. It’s about coming back to our relationship with nature, but also our kinship with each other, beyond just our families, intimacy with our community, and a deeper sense of what it is to truly belong. This is the journey Linda takes us on, and in many ways, I’d say it's likely the most important journey for us all to take right now.
Liza Tarbuck interview (Siobhan)-
Liza, you play Siobhan, the older sister of our main character Linda. When Linda escapes to the Forest of Dean on her motorbike, Siobhan tries to bring her back to reality and responsibilities. What were your first impressions of Siobhan?
Siobhan is in the ‘normal’ camp that Bridget’s character Linda is running from. I needed to play her a certain way to solidify that part of the story, to strengthen the family aspect. With the Siobhan character, I could see where I could potentially be amusing, but also ground the home life that Linda’s running from. It was fairly obvious to me that Siobhan has never been open to discussing things and probably hasn’t changed her opinion of who her sister is for decades. All her reaction comes from that.
How did you get involved in The Change?
I started bumping into Bridget in the park during lockdown, we kept falling into good meaty conversations. She kept saying to me: ‘You feel like my older sister.’ So, it started like that, the next thing I knew I was being asked to read for Siobhan. When something reads that well, you can’t say no. Bridget has a gift for making the unusual usual. The whole big picture of what she was doing blew me away. It’s very exciting to be part of it.
The show explores the menopause and other big themes like the environment and community.
What did you think about the overarching story?
It's really great when somebody gets hold of a subject and manages to change the perceived view of it, widens it and as broadcasters we’re responsible for doing that where we can. Bridget’s very good at that. From her live stand-up to other things, she’s always heightening expectations and never failing to deliver. The show is about growth holding hands with change and celebrating the different stages of our lives. As Siobhan, I’m representing a different stage of a woman’s life, she’s a bit stuck and that’s hard for her to admit.
What are your favourite moments from filming The Change?
It was lovely to be filming around Chepstow and Wales. It was really beautiful. We had come out of lockdown and had a good portion of solitary time, so it was quite thrilling to just take a train into Wales. The forest was heaven. Where we were was perfect, locations can make a shoot have a little bit of magic.
I love when you have a little filming village set up. When you stop for lunch there’s all sort of high-jinks and silliness. You’re allowed to wander around and go ‘Ooh what’s this?’ and there’s invariably someone there to tell you about the history ‘This is a cave that was made from… etc’. Bridget was across everything. I kept saying that to her: ‘You did this you clever girl It’s powerful stuff. On a female level, it’s pride-making. I’m so proud of her. Maybe I have morphed into her older sister!
Do you think that TV has lacked storylines about the menopause in the past?
And do you think it's important that shows like The Change fill in that space?
Most definitely. Over the last 20 years, I’ve noticed how an issue could arise in something like a soap opera, and they deal with it quite quickly. It’s like: ‘Have you done the menopause yet? Tick.’ Whereas it would be more beneficial for the viewer if they had the balls to let those things really linger and therefore become long conversations and storylines for certain characters. Because actually menopause is an ongoing story with lots of stages to it. We could also afford to be a bit more esoteric on telly these days. People have huge inner lives. I want to see more about respecting and interacting with nature for example, but then I like getting older because of what I’ve processed and now understand.
Do you have a favourite Siobhan scene from the series?
I liked the cave scene in the forest [when Siobhan tracks down Linda to confront her]. The best thing about that was throwing myself into the running away, saying ‘I’m going to really go for this’. I haven’t seen it, so I hope it’s not too much. Our garden party where the show begins was a really fun day, although we did all get sunburn! I had to watch Omid catching a sausage in his mouth over and over again. That bloody sausage! It was really funny, and in the company of lovely people, so not a bad way to spend a day.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the series as a whole?
One of the things I really loved about The Change is that it’s got an inner life. You’re watching and absorbing and hearing, but you've also got enough space to wonder about it afterwards. It doesn’t leave you when you’ve finished an episode, it has a resonance. It stays with you. I think that’s all in Bridget’s unique approach to it. It’s like a bouquet and each episode gives something different. You’ve got the arcs, the different characters, and the subject matter, which of course is a massive character itself, then you’ve got the mix of realistic and the unrealistic settings. It’s really complicated, and it's really simple. You can get things out of this on so many different levels.
Monica Dolan interview (Carmel)-
How did you get involved in the series?
I have been good friends with Bridget for about four years. We’d go out for breakfast and started talking about these characters. Sometimes you start talking about things and it seems like a joke, but Bridget talked more and more about the series, and we thought up our names that were popular in the 1970s. Then it was really a matter of where Bridget thought I’d fit into it. I just thought it would be fun working with my friends.
You play Carmel, one of the eel sisters, whose family is central to the forest community that Linda finds herself in.
When you saw the final scripts, what were your impressions of Carmel?
Her character’s very direct but there’s something slightly mysterious and secretive about Carmel. Her sister [Agnes] is more no-nonsense. But there's some something maybe a tiny bit scary about Carmel. Sometimes you get an awful lot of information from the costume session. Bridget was really across everything in terms of costume and props, all of that was very specific. She was very, very clear in her head about the world that she wanted to create. In the costume fitting, when they were showing me certain garments, I was like: OK that’s who she is, I see what they’re trying to do. It fell into place.
Which aspect of her costume did you find most enlightening?
The costume designer showed me pictures of air women. They wear trousers that are quite unique, they’re sort of uniform-based and practical, but at the same time there were slightly country-ish, sort of culture-lag tops to go with it. That gave a really brilliant sense of the world. If something’s quite original, you don't always know where you're going with it so the sets and costumes really place you where you need to be.
How would you describe the sisters and their Eel Café and Eel Festival to someone who hasn't seen the show?
I'd say that the eel sisters, and the Eel Festival, is something that the community in the forest revolves around. The eel sisters have lost their dad – I wouldn't say it's touched them in the way that it touches many people, because I'm not sure how much they liked their dad. But that family is the centre of the Eel Festival, which is the centre of the community. They run the Eel Café which serves eels and mash and liquor, and that’s where all the old men come and get their food. They're a respected family and you don't mess with them. One of the stage directions early on that Bridget put in was that all of the men clearly adore Carmel and her sister.
They’re the sort of characters who just have to say one word really quietly and they’re obeyed.
Carmel and Agnes can be suspicious of outsiders. They’re a bit suspicious of Linda when she first arrives, but ultimately accepting of her. What do you think of that contrast between the suspicion and the acceptance?
There's a really funny line towards the beginning when Linda says that she's staying for three months and they say, ‘Oh, you're just passing through then are you?’. They make it clear that they think three months is just popping in. They’ve got a very particular understanding of their land and the ecosystem of the forest. If something works in accordance with that then they’re OK with it. With Linda, she grows on them, and that’s because she’s very instrumental in trying to save the forest. They don’t dislike Linda at the beginning, they just can’t be bothered with her. They’ll still serve her eels and mash and carry on with their lives.
How did you go about preparing for the role and getting inside the mind of Carmel?
I always try and think what that character’s priorities are. Her priorities are family and land, and the institution of the cafe, and it was all about keeping that going. I could see that she was very much involved with the earth and saw herself as part of that – not in charge of it as quite a lot of us think.
And what about the accent?
I wouldn't like to say that I achieved that until it comes out and people from the Forest of Dean think it was OK! I did play Rosemary West before and that was Gloucester, so not too far away. And obviously Bridget's from that area. But we had a fantastic dialect coach as well. Since doing The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, and one or two other projects, I’ve got really into going into the sounds of accents. It’s just about putting in a lot of work really, but I think it’s very important not to do your accent work at the same time as your psychological work with the character. The accent is very much a technical thing, so you practice that and build your muscle memory, then all the thinking about the role is separate. You hope that they happen together on the day.
And there was a bit of a last-minute change with Susan Lynch stepping into play your sister, Agnes.
How did you support her and help bring her into the cast?
I think she found out at five o'clock the night before we did a really, really big scene, the sisters first scene. She's absolutely phenomenally talented. She’s absolutely extraordinary in Happy Valley. We’re both fairly long in the tooth in terms of being actors, so I thought: what would I want? So, I just gave her a really big hug at the beginning in the makeup bus and said ‘hello’ and we went through our lines loads and loads of times. You’re playing somebody where the eel sisters know what each other are thinking they can start and finish each other's sentences. But luckily, she’s such a lovely woman and incredibly easy to get on with and just such a good actress.
The Eel Café and the Eel Festival are so central to the community in this show, and so eels themselves are quite central to the sisters’ way of life. How did you kind of get into that aspect of the story?
I just thought it was really bizarre at the beginning. My family is Irish and there are these very specific English customs of rolling cheese down hills and stuff. That was one of those things where you think: OK, I’ll just be really open about this. But then the story behind eels and their life cycle is really interesting, that they go back to the same place to mate. My only personal experience of eels is that actually, when I was a teenager, at my friend's house, we gutted an eel and cooked it for dinner. So, I knew what was involved there, but I don't know how helpful that was!
You were working with fake eels on set – how did you make them feel real?
We had eels in buckets and all sorts, Susan’s character was taking them out of the water, I was cooking them. One time I was about to put my eels and mash down for one of the supporting artists and I found a tube of KY jelly there on the table. I asked, what’s that for? The art department explained it was to smear over the eels to make them look shiny.
In the Eel Festival, the characters lead a procession representing the stages of a woman’s life and repeat the line, ‘May all your transitions be joyful’. What did you think of that line and the message of the festival?
Transitions are a part of life. Maybe it's a bit ambitious to expect a woman to be joyful, because change is very hard for people. But the festival is about embracing change. If you try and live in the moment with things, then hopefully transitions can be joyful. If you’re open and trusting, hopefully they can be.
Everyone’s quite apprehensive about the unknown, aren't they?
Change isn’t a comfortable place, but it's an area where you see what you’re made of.
A key theme of the festival and the series overall is the menopause and characters’ experience of the menopause, especially Linda herself. Do you think that British TV has previously lacked storylines about menopausal characters?
Maybe we haven't seen enough of it in the right way. It’s been the butt of jokes and there’s been dismissal of characters as a “battleaxe” or whatever. In terms of documentary and debate at the moment, there’s discussion and it’s quite good. People are feeling more open to talking about it. In terms of actual storylines and people explicitly going through it, talking about the symptoms, and wanting something different out of life as a result of what’s happening to them physically, that’s new. It’s a whole other part of your life that you're embarking on. We talk about society a lot. But we really, really underestimate biology and the effect it that has on your thoughts and feelings and how you need to live. I think this storyline certainly makes that embarkation on a new way of life kind of exciting.
All the stars of the show are women who are aged around 50, playing characters who are their own age. What do you think of that casting decision?
Actually, I think the question should be why generally people aren’t cast as their own age. Why do you get women in Hollywood playing mothers of actors that are one year older than them? I’m all for age-appropriate casting. It certainly made for us all having a pool of knowledge and experience and wisdom, dare I say, that was useful for what we were doing.
What are your personal highlights from behind the scenes?
I really enjoyed getting to know new people. It was actually great being in that environment by the lake. There was a family of ducks by the Eel Café all the time. The ducklings were really, really tiny when we first arrived, then they got quite big. I remember a cluster of us around this family of ducks, taking photos of them and looking at them. It’s not often that part of your set is growing as a family.
And do you have a favourite eel sisters or Carmel scene from the whole series?
Oh, it's really difficult. I just really enjoyed working with Susan. We tended to even make mistakes at the same time hilariously. There’s quite a fun scene where we’re beating up Linda. There was one scene where we had to storm through the forest side by side carrying a plate of eels and mash to Linda’s caravan, our dad’s old caravan. Of course, the camera operators in front of you and they’re running backwards and it's quite difficult for them because there’s lots to fall over in the forest. When you're angry, you walk quite fast, but that doesn’t really work on camera, so you have to have that energy of being really fast and really annoyed but walk quite slowly. We did that a few times!
What do you hope that viewers take away from the series as a whole? Are there any messages or feelings that you'd like them to leave with?
The whole thing about the land is important. We’ve very much lost sight of the fact that we’re part of an ecosystem. A lot of the time for companies it can be about marketing and what makes them look good in terms of climate change and trying to save the planet. The more we have a deeper realisation that we're all part of something that's growing, the better. It all works together if you let it, and don’t try and be greedy and harness everything for your own gratification.
Paul Whitehouse interview (Tony)-
You play Tony, a local to the Forest of Dean town that our main character Linda finds herself in on her quest for self-discovery. He’s well-known locally but holds some outdated ideas. Tell us how you got involved in this project?
I'm big fan of Bridget and it's about time that she was given the recognition she’s getting. I was pleased to be part of it. When Bridget sent me the part of Tony, I thought he was such a good character, because he’s so un-right on. Bridget’s the poster girl for a particular brand of comedy but she’d written a character who was so not that. What I love about Bridget’s writing is that it’s not judgemental. The character is a pain in the arse and could’ve been intimidating, except the way she presents it is she’s the tough guy and I’m all front. She sees a kernel of compassion in the guy that’s masked by his macho bravado. Also, it gives me the opportunity to be totally politically incorrect, which is always a lot of fun! It was such a strong character; I knew I could contribute. I’m actually quite wary of doing other people’s stuff. If I haven't been involved in the creating of it, I never know if I can bring anything to it. Whereas with this, we had an affinity straightaway.
You described your character Tony as being politically incorrect. How would you paint a picture of Tony for someone who hasn't yet seen the show?
He’s your man out of time. To use a relatively modern frame, he’s untouched by the metropolitan elite. There are millions of people like that in the country. A lot of people, especially of a certain age, are set in their ways. You can’t be judgemental – well too judgemental – about people like Tony, who’s trying to grasp this kernel of change that’s happening around him. At heart, he’s quite decent. He thinks women should be protected. He’s not an overt misogynist, it comes from a misguided notion of old-fashioned chivalry, which is patronising but not dangerous. There is an awkward sexuality about him, which I’m afraid most males are afflicted with. He’s challenged by Linda when she turns up. It does make him reassess. He’s a fictional character, but he represents the potential for change.
The first scene that you filmed, your character Tony sees Bridget sitting alone in the pub and tries to chat her up. Tell us about that scene?
It was just a lovely little scene and a great pay-off at the end of it. We were filming it as we were emerging from lockdown, and I remember sending Bob Mortimer a picture of the interior of the pub, because we hadn’t been in one for so long. It was really strange going in there and thinking how much a part of British cultural life a pub is. In fact, I think the last time I'd been to a pub was with Bob. Anyway, we did the scene and Bridget was very happy with it. It was a lovely scene to do. And we really, we really had fun doing it.
How did you get into the mindset of Tony to prepare for the role?
I can honestly say I’ve never walked up to a woman sitting at a pub table ever, never mind one in biker leathers reading a book, and tried to chat her up. But I know people who have and people who do. It came off the page quite quickly. I sensed on reading it that it’s something I can do.
When you got a chance to read the full scripts, what were your first impressions of Tony’s storyline and Bridget’s vision for the whole series?
To see that character slot into the whole story was great. I knew it was about the menopause and how it affects women, but also their partners and children. I like the dressing down she gets from other members of her family, including the women: ‘Behave yourself, what are you doing?’ Because if a bloke goes off on a motorbike, as has happened in the form of a midlife crisis, quite correctly we’d probably laugh. So in this case, although there's a genuine reason behind it and a biological imperative, we are also allowed to laugh at her too. Bridget is always prepared to show the effect it has on everyone. In a way, all the characters are sent to try Linda – including Tony. Everyone she meets around the forest; they present a challenge for her in some way or another.
As a fishing expert and star of your own series Gone Fishing, what did you think of the importance of eels in the town where the show is set and the Eel Festival storyline?
I loved little touches like the Eel Festival. I thought it was a genuine thing at first – there probably is something like that historically. Putting my fishing hat on, the eel run was a time of great bounty in rural communities. But eel stocks have gone off the cliff now. Where I’ve fished in the past you see these old structures which are eel traps, because eels used to come up in their millions and there would’ve been a bounty, so that would’ve been celebrated. I think she conjured up the Eel Festival, but it probably is rooted in reality. And there is something slightly phallic about eels and something almost sperm-like about elvers. Then there she is going through the menopause. Maybe I’m reading too much into it!
Which bits of the show did you most enjoy filming and what do you think is Tony's funniest scene in the show?
I enjoyed the town hall meeting. Me and Jim Howick [who plays the Verderer] had a laugh together because our characters are both outspoken at the meeting. In the town hall meeting, we’re talking about the Eel Festival, traditional old English celebrations and preserving cultures. That scene was a good way of showing: these things that are traditional and, in some senses, worth saving, how do we adapt them? If we do, do we lose the sense of where they come from? Or do we have to update them because certain things about them are offensive? Anyway, that’s not really the reason I like the scene! Do you know The Troggs Tapes? The band The Troggs, there’s a legendary recording of them trying to record a track and they cannot say a sentence without saying fucking every other fucking word. It’s very funny. That scene was a perfect opportunity to be inspired by the Troggs Tapes. For anyone who knows it, they’ll go he’s nicked that off The Troggs!
But I think my favourite scene Tony does is the first scene, where he first meets Linda in the pub. He’s so gauche but she can handle him, and they realise that there’s great potential for a friendship there.
What do you think that viewers might take away from the series as a whole?
We all go through changes in life, and we all have things that we have to cope with and come to terms with, but the menopause and our understanding of it has been on the back burner. I love the way that she doesn't present it as a sort of stick to beat people with. The show presents an understanding of what the menopause is, while showing all sides. I hope it’s a success because it was great fun to do, and I just hope that Tony doesn’t reform too much or there’s going to be no fun playing him!
Jim Howick interview (The Verderer)-
You play The Verderer, a resident of the town Linda finds herself in, who DJs on the local radio station and preaches his views about men’s rights and holding on to traditions. For someone who hasn’t seen the show yet, how would you sum up the Verderer in a sentence or two?
The Verderer is an angry, middle-aged man obsessed with encroachment.
What were your first impressions of your character?
It was a struggle to get my head around the man, because I suppose my type is quite sunny, chirpy characters and here was a man who was just lost, essentially. His dialogue was quite ugly and difficult to read. If I'm honest, I didn't really like the man. My first impression was: this guy is everything I don't like about the world. But there’s a human being in there and that’s another lesson that perhaps we should learn, that through thorough investigation and a little understanding you learn these people are generally lonely and lost and angry.
His storyline feels like quite a sympathetic portrayal and offers an explanation for why he is how he is – did it feel like that to you?
I hope so, because I’m not saying that all of these people are angels underneath, and this guy certainly isn’t, but he’s alone and doesn’t have any friends. That’s something that I really noticed. Everything that I do, my characters have always got close friends and it’s a comfort actually, because when you film it’s reflected in your day’s work – you play games between takes and get to know people. I felt like a bit of an island on this job. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, I loved working with Bridget and Al Campbell the director, and the cast and crew was super nice and the location was beautiful. It’s unusual for me to feel isolated as a character, but that just helped give me a greater understanding of this guy’s issues.
The character and his story touch on quite a few things that have become prominent issues in recent times, such as conspiracy theories, isolation, and online radicalisation. How did you research that role and get into the character?
I didn't really need to do an awful lot of research. It’s there in front of us all day on social media, in the press. We find ourselves constantly in the middle of a sort of culture war. It’s a real struggle when you're on social media and you realise just how many people buy this stuff. It’s not just the well-off, right-wing demographic, its working-class people, in the provinces, everywhere. We’re saturated with it. Plus, it's all there in the script. So, my prep was looking into what makes these people say and feel these things, and my understanding is that it’s an obsession with encroachment, feeling like you’re being pushed out of your lane in life. The irony is, as we see through the Verderer’s story, the only people that he should really fear are the people he idolises, the authoritarians. The domineering presence in the show is the council, the lawmakers. He looks up to them and they are destroying what he loves.
How did you feel about the journey that The Verderer goes on through the six episodes?
I loved it. I wouldn’t say it’s redeeming or atonement in any way, but it gives us a greater understanding of where our focus should be, where his focus should be. Whether it changes him or not I don't know because he needs an identity and I think so many people summon these horrific views as an identity.
There’s an interesting scene with his cowboy boots, and he’s got a very distinct look throughout the show. Can you tell me a bit about his style and how he distinguishes himself from the townsfolk around him?
I see it as him being a big kid really and indulging in his ‘nerdisms’. So, he sees clothing as a sort of cool gauge – and in the gauge of authority and coolness, the cowboy is probably quite high up. He also considers himself to be a man of the land and a cowboy is the perfect example of that in a young man’s fantasy world. It ties into him being a DJ. When we were kids, we all played at being DJs and it was fine because it was in our bedrooms and wasn’t being played to the world. He’s a big fish in his pond because of his radio show, and through it, he provokes the men in the town to feel the same way he does. It’s a really beautiful device – him being a DJ and having this really small audience, it props him up to celebrity status in the village.
You filmed in beautiful locations – tell us about where these were and what it was like to film there?
We filmed mostly in the Forest of Dean – the forest scenes and Eel Café are all there. There were a couple of town scenes – the café [where the Verderer DJs] is in Chepstow, just across the Welsh border. The forest is a stunningly beautiful place, so vast. It was among the hottest days of the year, those few weeks we were filming, so it was quite nice to be underneath the canopy in a shady forest. The place is alive. I was driving from Chepstow to our base in the forest at six in the morning and I saw a family of wild boar cross the road about 100 yards in front of me. They were just huge – a couple of babies, then the mummy or daddy, and it was the size of a small cow. So, I stopped the car, ended eye contact and just let them do their thing! It was amazing.
The Verderer embarks on an environmental crusade as the series progresses.
What did you think of the environmental storyline?
It’s massively relatable. I love the environmental storyline juxtaposed with the Verderer’s character – for me, it feels like a huge lesson because you could say he’s had a dose of his own medicine, because he empowered these people in authority and looks up to them, but they then ruin his environment. It's vital that we keep talking about these things.
Do you feel like there were many or any storylines about the menopause in TV before this? Is this the first time you've really seen it brought to screen?
I don’t think it’s been dealt with so boldly before – this is the primary subject of this show and that’s where it deserves to be. It deserves to be at the front, and it deserves to be learned about. I think I and a lot of the men on the set learned an awful lot during this show about the very real struggle. There are certain things in our lives that are absolutely going to happen, and the menopause is one of them, so it's massively important to understand how it affects you. We touch on it in the show from a man’s point of view too. Obviously, you have to keep the show funny, and Bridget’s done such an amazing job of that, but it’s a really serious issue.
Do you think that it might make men who are watching consider about their lack of knowledge about the menopause?
I hope so. The comedy will hopefully shoehorn in some education, comedy does do that. When we sat around and read the scripts in the room, I really learned something. There’s an amazing bottle episode where the women of the cast are talking about their experiences and their feelings. It’s the standout episode of the series for me. I’ve seen stuff like that in my time on Sex Education, but at a different age, the beginnings of becoming a woman, and here we are at middle age. It’s massively important to talk about it.
And do you have a favourite scene or moment for your character?
I really enjoyed making the town hall meeting scene. We were all together and it was the midpoint of the story, the moment where disaster strikes and we see how our band of principles deal with that: what’s important to them, what they deep down care about. For me, it was a gear change for my character. He goes off and spends time in the woods to protect his beloved tree. So, I really enjoyed performing that. It's really great writing from Bridget.
What were your personal highlights from the actual making of the series?
The scenery that we were in was a highlight. But working with such an incredible cast. It’s strange for me because in Sex Education I’m pretty much the eldest on set most days, and in this show, I was the youngest most days. I was working with absolute legends – I made friends with Paul Whitehouse during this shoot. That seems completely crazy to me. He’s an absolute hero. Monica I’ve worked with before. Ashley, I’ve long admired her. And then Susan is just an incredible actor. And Bridget is just… she’s brilliant. Bridget approached the show with a wry silliness. It’s impossible not to love her, and it’s impossible not to listen to her. I loved Al's direction and Ben's photography and it looks beautiful from what I've seen. You already know it's funny and you already know that it's important, so to see it come together with the look and the soundtrack they've used is really thrilling.
Omid Djalili interview (Steve)-
How did you get involved in the project?
I was approached by Bridget Christie directly; she is a comic I have known and admired for years.
What did you think of the character Steve when you first read the script?
I thought the character was well-meaning, but like a lot of blokey husbands, a complete mental and emotional arse. Whilst delving deep to explore the character, being the seasoned method actor that I am, I realised after 30 seconds Steve was me.
How would you describe Steve to someone who hasn’t seen The Change?
I would describe Steve as a bald, fat, hairy middle-aged bloke with a bit of a heart but more of an arse. Literally and figuratively.
Steve has failed to contribute to the household and family chores for years – how does your record on domestic labour compare to his?
Do you think Steve, and men like him, will be familiar to some viewers?
If Steve is not familiar to some husbands watching, then they are either deluded or busy scrawling through TikTok or Instagram.
Across the series, Steve has a lot of big realisations and learns about gender inequality – tell me more about this character arc. What did you think of it?
Throughout the series, Steve wakes up to the patriarchy and how appalling it is. Bridget and I have already spoken about Steve giving talks at the local pub about humanity being like a bird with two wings, the two wings being men and women, and unless the wings are equal in strength, the bird can’t fly straight and indeed flies around in circles. But Bridget felt we were still about 5 seasons away from Steve achieving this noble goal.
What did you think about Bridget’s script overall when you first read it?
Bridget’s scripts were very funny and brilliantly written.
What does it mean to be part of a story of female empowerment and the menopause? Has TV lacked stories like this in the past?
It makes total sense to be part of a series about female empowerment, especially as an Iranian man who has been very active and vocal about the “woman life freedom” movement going on in Iran right now.
Tell me about the experience of working together with this cast – any personal highlights?
It was difficult to focus on working with the other actors, because they were always egging me on to catch sausages in my mouth. This happened almost every hour.
What’s your favourite Steve scene?
My favourite scene? Catching sausages in Steve’s mouth.
How long did you have to practice catching a sausage in your mouth? Any other behind-the-scenes highlights?
It took about five minutes of practice to catch a sausage in my mouth and each time I did it in one take.
What do you hope viewers take away from the series as a whole?
I hope people will watch this and realise how hard it is to be a husband…