Jemima Rooper is set to star as Sharon in new play Breeders, written by Ben Ockrent, directed by Tamara Harvey, from 3 September – 4 October at the St James Theatre. Angela Griffin and Tamsin Outhwaite also star.
Roopers’s career began playing tomboy George in the TV re-make of The Famous Five, and includes several lesbian roles along the way. “It’s interesting, I’ve played a lot of lesbians…” she laughs, however in Breeders she’s cast as the straight woman and feels “really jealous” of the fun Outhwaite and Griffin are having in their lesbian couple role.
It’s important to Rooper to find those “interesting female roles” and that over the span of her career it’s been the case that they have tended not to be “traditional roles” and as such often been lesbian characters, demonstrating that there is still a gap in gender equality within TV, theatre and film.
Rooper joins new play Breeders fresh from a stint as Elvira in the Noel Coward Classic Blithe Spirit, the supernatural comedy that also starred Angela Lansbury, whose “energy and enthusiasm” following a seven-decade career, meant no cast member could rest on their laurels.
The bulk of Rooper’s experience, though, is bedded in new writing, where there is a real opportunity to “shape a piece” and “form a character” but brings along the “nerve-wracking” sense of starting from scratch with no reference points for production, particularly when the story is as contemporary as same-sex parenting.
Breeders, Rooper promises, will offer a “fun evening” for regular theatre-goers, and also offers something for people who don’t normally go to the theatre but who may decide to attend due to its universal “issues and themes” that will no doubt draw opinions from a lot of interested people.
It’s fundamentally about “family”, she says, and having children, but contextualised within a modern situation through the exploration of how a same-sex couple chooses to start a family and make it happen.
Rooper’s role is that of the “outsider”, who is not involved in starting a family. In fact she provides the counter-point to whether it’s responsible to even have children at all, and that it should be “a choice”, while her own life and relationship (as the girlfriend of the potential donor) are directly impacted by the couple-in-point’s decision.
The theatre is where these issues can be explored, through interesting characters and situations, reacting to the audience’s response and Rooper hopes that the rehearsal process will translate well to stage as it has been a fun “hilarious, lovely” experience.