Katherine Parkinson: ‘Felicity Kendal’s wellies are big ones to fill’

The IT Crowd actor on losing things, the lure of Shakespeare, and starring in a stage version of 70s sitcom The Good Life

London-born Katherine Parkinson, 41, studied classics at Oxford University and acting at Lamda in London. She played Jen in the sitcom The IT Crowd, for which role she won a Bafta. Other TV credits include Doc Martin, The Honourable Woman, Humans and Defending the Guilty. She now stars in EV Crowe’s new play Shoe Lady at the Royal Court in London and will soon appear as Barbara Good in the stage revival of sitcom The Good Life in Bristol.

What’s Shoe Lady, about?
It’s a brilliant piece of writing by Emma Crowe that’s impressionistic and poetic – which probably makes it sound incredibly worthy but it’s really funny. Essentially, it’s about an estate agent who loses her shoe on the way to work and everything escalates from there because she can’t seem to fit into the world any more. It’s about how close we all are to the edge and the surprising fragility of things the middle classes take for granted.

Are you close to the edge yourself?
Oh my God, I’m over the edge. No, it did resonate. I’ve done lots of theatre lately and wasn’t especially looking to do more but I couldn’t resist this because it was so unique. Sometimes theatre can be poverty porn – plays about the working class being watched by the middle class, which feels uncomfortable and touristy – whereas this feels like a truthful piece of writing about somebody’s particular circumstances.

You spend a lot of time wearing one shoe in Shoe Lady. Are you developing one muscular leg?
There’s a travelator on stage. I’ve got a vulnerable right knee, anyway, and this might just be the end of me! The movement director told me not to rehearse it in one shoe and luckily it has a fairly short run. It’s not something you’d want to do for six months in the West End. Maybe I’d get so used to it, I’d have to walk around in one shoe for the rest of my life.

Katherine Parkinson.
‘There’s a talk of a real goat in The Good Life, which would be great. I’ve got a lot of time for goats’: Katherine Parkinson. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Are you a big one for losing things in real life?
Afraid so. On holiday in Norway recently, I lost my phone on the last day. It was snowing, I went back to look for it and managed to lose my wallet in the process. That was a dark flight home, let me tell you. But I’m organised and vigilant about things I care about. I’ve never lost a child. Never left one in the pub like David Cameron.

Next you play Barbara Good in a stage revival of The Good Life. Does it feel oddly timely for a sitcom that first aired 45 years ago?
It does feel relevant now because self-sufficiency could be the way to go. It was so radical at that time but now growing more and consuming less seems the sensible thing to do.

Were you a fan of the TV original?
Absolutely. I used to like the jeans Felicity Kendal wore, as well as her performance. I find that era of comedy so appealing. I used to love Butterflies, Ever Decreasing Circles, Yes Minister, anything with Leonard Rossiter in it…

What is it about those 70s and 80s comedies that you love?
There was a period when comedy became quite brash – get a laugh and move on – whereas those shows were more ruminative, melancholic. That style seems to be coming back now. I really enjoyed Mum recently, which to me feels in the same vein as Butterflies. In Yes Minister, you’d get these long speeches, not just one-liners. Things like Fleabag are bringing that expansive dialogue back, too.

Felicity Kendal became a sex symbol off the back of The Good Life
That’s not what I’ll be offering, obviously. I’m a decade older than she was and I’m not sure that’s within my power. I’ll just try to be funny and tell the story. They’re big wellies to fill but we’re not competing with the original, it’s very much a reimagining.

Did you secretly hanker to play Margot (Penelope Keith’s character) instead?
She’s so funny. Maybe we could all swap parts each night. I could play Geraldine the goat as well. There’s a talk of a real goat, which would be great. I’ve a lot of time for goats. I love goat’s milk products. That could be my conversational starting point with Geraldine.

You move between stage and screen. Which is your natural home?
Unfortunately, the less well-paid one is my natural home, which is inconvenient. I’m very artistically ambitious but part of it is about giving me enough time with my children [six-year-old Dora and Gwendolyn, four]. Jumping between stage and screen gives me that flexibility. It’s also easy to get over-exposed on TV – “Oh God, not her again” – so I hide in the theatre sometimes.

Do you stay in touch with your co-stars from The IT Crowd?
They were all at my wedding but Chris [O’Dowd] is in America now and Richard [Ayoade] is doing things all over the world. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I have very fond memories.

You won a Bafta for your role as IT manager Jen. Where do you keep it?
I was going to pretend I didn’t know, just to look cool and blasé, but I know damn well where it is: on a shelf at home in a room that’s sort of my room. My husband [the actor Harry Peacock] calls it “the Chaos Room”.

You wrote your debut play, Sitting, last year. Any more writing plans?
I really enjoyed it, so I’m trying to do more and have a couple of possible writing projects. The great advantage is that you can take the children into school, then get back into bed. That’s a legitimate way of working: Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes in hers.

What’s on your acting bucket list?
I’ve got heavily into Tennessee Williams lately so I want to do one of his plays. It’s probably a stereotypical thing for actors to say, but I’d also like to do some Shakespeare. I’ve never done any but my husband has and I’m jealous. He’s always implying you’re not a proper actor until you’ve done Shakespeare. He’s a complete arsehole, so I have to remind him that I have a degree and he doesn’t.

What makes you happy when you’re not working?
I’ve started, almost obsessively and to a worrying degree, making clay masks. Didn’t expect that answer, did you?

Shoe Lady is at the Royal Court, London, from 4 to 21 March. The Good Life is at Theatre Royal Bath from 4 to 20 June


Interview by Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Katherine Parkinson: ‘Comedy is instinctive – you don’t have to do any homework’
The actor talks sitcoms, clay modelling – and her knack of making a mess in the kitchen

Andrew Anthony

20, Sep, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Daisy Haggard: ‘Seeing the love for Back to Life spread has made me happy'
The star and creator of the word-of-mouth TV hit on researching with ex-cons, mature sex and why she got kicked out of school science class

Michael Hogan

12, May, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Graham Linehan: 'We couldn't make Father Ted in the same way today'
The man behind the hit sitcom talks to Elizabeth Day about Catholic guilt, the power of Twitter and how he put The Ladykillers on stage

Elizabeth Day

06, Jul, 2013 @11:04 PM

Article image
On my radar: Susan Wokoma’s cultural highlights
The Crazyhead and Chewing Gum actor on a podcast about grief, some mind-blowing electronica, and the perfect pre-theatre venue

Kathryn Bromwich

27, Aug, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Megan Mullally: ‘I’m so excited. You Brits will get our wry wit, I think’
The actor on a forthcoming Will & Grace reunion, being married to Ron from Parks and Recreation, and touring with her new punk-folk duo

Michael Hogan

12, Mar, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Sue Perkins: 'My best presenting is when they say: let the shambolic oaf do her own thing'
The comedian and presenter on dealing with nerves, Bake Off and why she’s made a drama about Joan Rivers and Barbra Streisand

Kate Kellaway

11, Oct, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Charlotte Ritchie: ‘Feel Good has been cathartic for a lot of people’
The co-star of Mae Martin’s award-winning romcom on the new series, working with a pigeon on Ghosts and accidentally dressing like a Minion

Michael Hogan

30, May, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
Rebekah Staton: ‘Clint Eastwood is the coolest person I’ve ever met’
The Ordinary Lies star on her role depicting domestic abuse in a gay relationship and the online fight to save Caitlin and Caroline Moran’s sitcom, Raised By Wolves

Michael Hogan

30, Oct, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Sian Clifford: 'I nearly vomited into my webcam when I won the Bafta'
The actor on her new ‘plilm’, being busy in a pandemic, and the strangeness of Brad Pitt ‘fan-girling’ over her Fleabag co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Tim Lewis

10, Jan, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Tim Minchin: ‘The world feels a bit post-jokes’
The comedian-composer on his children’s book, Australia’s same-sex marriage vote and why he’s glad to be leaving Hollywood

Michael Hogan

08, Oct, 2017 @8:00 AM