Janet Dibley has discovered Daniel O’Donnell thanks to comedy Women On The Verge Of HRT

SHE’S definitely not on the verge of HRT (and frankly admits to knowing hardly anything about hormone replacement therapy) but 50-year-old actress Janet Dibley is enjoying her first stage appearance in 13 years in Marie Jones’ bitter-sweet look at “the change”.

Dibley and Louise Jameson act out comedy-drama, Women On The Verge Of HRT, where two best friends, struggling with mid-life crisis husbands and the menopause, decide to take a trip to Donegal to watch a Daniel O’Donnell concert.

The tour reaches Darlington Civic Theatre next week and promises a little light relief for women of a certain age... and any husband/partner brave enough to take up the offer of a ticket.

“I seem to make a habit of playing damaged women,” she laughs. “I think I had to be enormously brave to go back on stage after a gap of 13 years. The level of fear you hit is like bungee-jumping. If you haven’t done something like it then you’ll never know. You end up putting everything on the line, but it pays off and does a lot for your confidence,”

adds Dibley. Part of the challenge has been forging a friendship with Jameson which has to look genuine on stage. “We’ve never acted together before, but we have worked with lots of people in common, and we’ve formed a good relationship on and off stage which isn’t always the case when touring, as I’m sure you know,” she says.

Dibley admits that she had no idea of the popularity of Daniel O’Donnell before taking on the play, but says: “I see the impact he has on female fans now, particularly in Ireland. That was one reason we wanted to keep the play set in Ireland. It was suggested we should go for another regional accent, but I felt it should retain its original setting of Northern Ireland. After hard rehearsals I think the Irish accent flows with the lines now.”

The actress, who has relatives in Darlington, is also looking forward to being back on tour. “Previously, I didn’t enjoy it and would stay in bed until it was nearly time to go back to the theatre. This time I’m determined to see more of the places that we’re visiting. So I’m getting up earlier and looking forward to doing things like walking and sightseeing,”

she says.

While Dibley may not care for HRT, she is in industry which can tempt people to go for cosmetic and surgical ways of looking younger in order to keep getting work. “I think there’s always been pressure on women to look younger, but I’ve never been tempted to go for botox or cosmetic surgery because I’d rather spend the money on a decent holiday. I’ve decided to stick with the looks that nature gave me,” she says.

In addition to playing a bulimic slimming club boss in Kay Mellor’s excellent TV series Fat Friends, Dibley has appeared in many of the small screen’s popular dramas and admits that her departure in 1998 from BBC1’s EastEnders as Lorna Cartwright (who helped break up Phil’s marriage to Kathy) was probably one of her toughest decisions.“It was towards the end of my contract but EastEnders wanted to do more, but I had a problem with not being in control of what comes up for my character.

“I felt very nervous about being suddenly being faced with things that I wasn’t sure about doing. I found that my character becoming a prostitute and being attacked was quite stark to be involved in. Now, I’d handle it a bit better and talk to people about it, but, then, I got a bit nervous and thought ‘well I’ll go’,”

she explains.

One final question I have is on whether her current play is really just suitable for women.

“My husband came along to see it and it was brilliant because he said ‘I learnt something’. And it’s not like he was hit over the head by something aggressive. The play is very funny and moving and he said ‘I never knew that’.

“So I would encourage husbands to see it because it’s a fun night out and not men-bashing at all. But I do admit they are in the minority... and what you have to appreciate is that the queue for the ladies’ stretches for miles while the men don’t have any problems at all,” she laughs.