Monday 14 Jul 2014
Day and time to be confirmed BBC TWO
Emma Fryer (Ideal) stars in BBC Two's latest comedy offering, Home Time, a six-part series that she has co-written with Neil Edmond. Emma plays Gaynor, who has returned to her home town of Coventry, to her mum and dad's house, and home to her three best friends, Mel, Becky and Kelly. Aged 17, Gaynor ran off to find her place in the big wide world, but now, aged 29, she's back with her tail between her legs.
Here, Emma tells Programme Information how the series came about, how she got into acting and how much she loves her own home town of Coventry.
What is Home Time about?
"It's about a girl who, at 17, suddenly left home with big but very vague ideas. She was feeling very special and now, suddenly, she finds herself at 29 back in the exact same situation she left, and with nothing to show for it but a lot of smudged mascara. So it's about living in your teenage bedroom at the age of 29 and facing up to the fact that, somewhere, everything went wrong.
"Home Time is about being lost, getting stuck and finally growing up, and I think that's happening a lot later. It's about recognising the benefits of belonging in and being part of a place and not feeling entirely anonymous. Finally, it's about realising that you can let go of that exhausting teenage sense of special separateness, those thoughts of, 'Nobody gets me, everybody's looking at me, I'm so different'. Actually, you're not that different and no one's got time to look at you, they've got lots of work/childcare/shopping to do."
How did you come up with the idea for Home Time?
"I think it was around the time I came back home to my mum and dad's house again, after yet another failed life change. I realised I couldn't put 'only' in front of my age any more. Saying 'I'm only 17' is a great excuse. 'I'm only 21' works too, but when you're heading towards 'I'm only 30' – that's just getting daft.
"Also, I was thinking about the importance of people who've known you all your life. Having gone away and attempted to start new lives quite a lot, I realised anyone can move away and reinvent themselves, get cool hair and a good music collection. But the people you grew up with know the truth; they saw you through first perms, shell suits, doing a rap about recycling in school assembly. They know that you once thought you could get pregnant from a toilet seat, and that the first boy who kissed you did it for a dare. They know the truth and like you anyway – they're good people to surround yourself with.
"Increasingly, people who left home a few years ago are finding themselves returning. It could be because of redundancies, house prices; it's something that's happening more and more. Parents thought their kids would be pretty much raised and out the door by 18. But there are still people living at their parents' house well into their twenties, sometimes thirties, and it's okay. I do feel sorry for the parents, though."
What was it like writing with Neil Edmond?
"I met Neil three years ago when I was doing my first play and we got on really well. We've worked together ever since, really. We did a project called Where Are The Joneses?, which involved driving around Europe in a small car, improvising a three-minute comedy episode every day for three months. By the end of it we were really psychotic. I thought: 'If we can get on under those circumstances and not physically harm each other, then we'll be alright for most things'. It's a joy to work with him.
"Neil was the first person I ever showed my writing to and I trust his opinion over most people. We've spent so much time together we have our own sort of shorthand language now of mainly grunts, swearwords and scribbles."
Are you like Gaynor?
"I have been – I've been all of them. I've certainly felt as lost as Gaynor – and as sad and foolish. I was always leaving with some hare-brained half notion of starting a new life somewhere else, but it always went wrong and I always came back. The difference between me and Gaynor is that I was always in close contact with my friends and family. Plus I was never away for very long because I always managed to fail miserably, but quickly.
"Gaynor left abruptly and cut all her ties. The people that she's returning to aren't being nasty – they're just hurt because she left in a really brutal way. She never meant to stop contact, she was just waiting for something brilliant to happen so she could get in touch with good news, but it never did. And the longer you leave it, the more impressive this 'good thing' has to be, until it's too late just to call and simply say hello."
Why has Gaynor gone back home?
"Something terrible has happened and she realises that, when things go wrong, the one place you want to return to is home. It's the place where you feel safe, where people know the bones of you, where you'll be looked after. Whatever's gone on down south, it must be pretty bad because the shame of staying there outweighed the shame of coming back to her home town a failure."
Are any of the stories in Home Time your own experiences?
"One theme that runs through it that I found was true of people my age is that, however nice the people you went to school with were, there's always a fear of seeing them again. The last time you saw them you were 17, full of dreams, your skin was good and you were wearing fashionable clothes. But now you run into them in the supermarket and they're all successful and sorted and you've got no make-up on. You're wearing the free PlayStation t-shirt you use for decorating and you just don't want them seeing you like this. At that point you hide behind the dairy produce and think 'Something's gone horribly wrong in my life, this isn't how I thought it would be; it hasn't turned out right'.
"As for the female characters, I've been all of them at different times in my life. I've been Kelly, a bedroom DJ with aspirations who is too old but can't let it go. I've been Becky – I did an MA in Creative Business and Marketing just so as I could dress for success and carry a laptop to work. And, on occasion, I've been exactly like Mel, doing nothing myself but happily sitting with a posh coffee, using other people's lives as a spectator sport. I've tried and failed at lots of things to try to emulate the successful, beaming people I've seen in magazines."
What's your relationship with Coventry like?
"I love Coventry, it's the place I'm happiest. It's the only place I really feel I know what I'm doing and where I'm going – both emotionally and physically. It's the only place I don't need a Sat Nav. Mastering the ring road was one of the proudest days of my life. My friends and family are all there and I'm very proud to still be working with some incredibly talented young performers and writers that I used to teach – they're going to do great things. Coventry is a beautiful place and we made sure we captured that in Home Time. The memorial park and the canal basin look stunning.
"We're not trying to capture all of life in Coventry through the series. Coventry is a very diverse city with lots of different people living lots of different lives. You couldn't possibly sum up the whole city through a small group of fictional characters.
"As the series goes on, Gaynor starts to realise that, as a teenager, you were trying to escape yourself, not your home town. I think that happens to a lot of people. In a way we could have set it anywhere because it's about everybody's relationship with their home town, not just mine."
How did you get into comedy/acting?
"I was a teacher before and I developed a stutter, so I did this all-female comedy night in Birmingham as a dare to myself just to see if I could do it. In typical Gaynor fashion, my poor old dad gave me a lift there and sat outside in the car for three and a half hours. I was so nervous I had a panic attack before I went on and this one woman took the time to chat to me and calm me down. She's been a proper mate ever since and is in Home Time, playing Siobhan Long. I didn't realise at the time it was a comedy competition but the audience were nice, it went well and everything started from there. I've been very, very, lucky."
Would you like to continue being both an actress and a writer?
"It's an incredibly rare opportunity to get to do both and, if I ever got the chance again, I'd love to. It's hugely daunting though, because I'm quite shy and it does involve being in front of many, many people. In a way I prefer the being at home writing, although the catering is not nearly as good!
"I've never written and acted before and you have to learn to keep your mind on the acting. But there were a few times when I was trying to learn lines thinking: 'Why did I make that sentence so complicated? And why did I write myself the most unattractive character possible, all smudged, sobbing and bloodshot in Nineties jeans?'"
What are your plans for the future?
"I'm doing a couple of projects and bits of writing with Neil. One project is about a woman who makes up ridiculous lies about doing good deeds to try to impress her ex-boyfriend, who's saving people's eyesight in Africa. I always seem to end up playing liars.
"If this all goes wrong, I'd love to go back to teaching or maybe open a small B&B and learn to do really good fry-ups."