Bad Jews actress Gina Bramhill takes her lead from Sheridan Smith
- Credit: Archant
The Crouch Hill actress talks to Alex Bellotti about the show’s London debut and why she’s hoping to carve out a niche in comedy.
In the aftermath of Paris’s tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks, the debate about free speech and religion has gripped the news agenda, with everyone from Nigel Farage to the Pope weighing in with their opinion.
The London debut of Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews at the St James Theatre could hardly be more topical. A witty yet caustic comedy about Jewish culture in New York, the show made its UK debut in Bath last year and received rave reviews for its sharp script and equally sharp performances.
Staged in a Manhattan-style apartment, the overarching story sees two siblings, Liam (Ilan Goodman) and Jonah (Joe Coen), and their cousin, Daphna (Jenna Augen), fighting over a gold ornament left by their recently-deceased grandfather. As the argument erupts, much of Daphna’s vitriol turns toward Liam’s airy gentile girlfriend, Melody, who is played by Crouch Hill resident Gina Bramhill.
“It feels like the closest thing to filming Friends,” says the actress, whose own television work includes roles in Being Human, Coronation Street and Mr Selfridge. “The set is an apartment and we’ve got a live audience, so I just imagine that was what it must have been like, which is really fun. There are a lot of gags, but it’s very acerbic and challenging too.”
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The title alone has given the show plenty of publicity; during its Broadway run, it even one night attracted a group of white separatists who, as Bramhill remarks, “didn’t quite grasp the irony involved”.
The show’s Jewish humour was an element she also took a while to nail down, but having grown up on sitcoms like Blackadder, it has provided her with a valuable chance to showcase her credentials as a comic performer.
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“Most of the time I’m usually killed at some point, certainly strangled,” she laughs, referencing her previous roles on screen. “I think it’s good to have something where people can identify you as that type of actress, and hopefully that can develop into you doing other things as well.
“Over the last five years, people have struggled to categorise me, so I’d love to be able to develop this particular aspect of my ability to do comedy.”
Originally from North Lincolnshire, Bramhill grew up on a farm alongside five siblings; her brother, Peter Bramhill, is also an actor. Her first theatrical experience was performing to fields of corn with “a piglet tucked under my arm at any given moment”.
One of her biggest inspirations is fellow North London resident Sheridan Smith, who attended the same school as Bramhill before breaking through in television and progressing to win two Olivier awards, a BAFTA and, most recently, to receive an OBE.
“She was the only actress I’d ever heard of who’d come out of that area, other than Joan Plowright who’s obviously a lot older.
“She’s also somebody who came from a comedy background; she did a lot of musicals as a kid but started out in comedy. I think if you want a long career, it’s probably the way forward.”
Bad Jews runs at the St James Theatre, SW1E 5JA, until February 28. Visit stjamestheatre.co.uk.