Rowan Hall Maudsley

Gail Marionette Audacité Summerfield is coming to Cambridge and bringing her skills in solving human problems with her. I sat down with acclaimed agony aunt to chat about her upcoming tour, Older, Wiser, Funner, Sillier. When I meet her, Gail is sat on a high backed chair in a new café, casually eating her bacon and brie muffin, and I immediately feel like this woman could help me sort my own life out. But we’re here to talk about the tour, so I ask my first question: why bring the show to Cambridge?

‘That’s an exceptional question. The way I see it, it’s supply and demand. You know, the reason that the “ADC Theatre: Corpus Playroom” needs an agony aunt from Milton Keynes is that I can offer something. Where I’m from is on the border of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, so it’s geographically and emotionally not much of a jump from there to Cambridge. In an over-intellectualised city like Cambridge, I’m bringing a totally ordinary voice. You know, in this industry, in my role as Agony Aunt in Chief, as the badge says, the phrase ‘safe space’ gets bandied about a lot and, you know, I’m happy to keep bandying. The way I see it, I’m making theatre a safe space.’

Gail is friendly, earnest, and very fond of gestures: she indicates the huge badge on her chest, and bandies her arms about in demonstration. I ask her how she views her job, and she nods at me as she finishes her muffin before asserting: ‘it’s my vocational [calling].’ She puts down her plate to explain.

 ‘Picture this: it’s 1993, and I’ve just gone in to the Milton Keynes Citizen to drop off a response to an ad for Nigel [her first husband] and there was a lad at the reception who was distraught, so I gave him a bit of counsel – just being a good Samaritan, you know – and it really helped him, and the receptionist said to me, “Gail, we’ve just had a vacancy for an agony aunt pop up, and you should apply,” and of course the rest is history!’

I ask her what her hometown means to her. She lights up.

 ‘I can’t speak highly enough of Milton Keynes. It has a bit of a poor reputation; a lot of people would say it’s nothing but roundabouts and to a large extent they’d be correct, but I think it is a new and vibrant place. I certainly haven’t outgrown it. I want to raise its profile. Being the spokeswoman of Milton Keynes is an honour to me.’

Milton Keynes is as much a fan of Gail as she is of Milton Keynes, but I want to know what, or who, else has inspired Gail’s work.

 ‘Oh, I would say my biggest inspiration is Channel 5’s Jane McDonald. Jane is a cruise singer-cum-presenter and in that way, she constantly inspires me to put myself out there and to use my own skills. And of course there was my mother, who was always a giver, you know. But Jane is definitely my biggest idol.’

As she gets more comfortable, folding her legs beneath herself on the sofa, I point out that Gail isn’t unfamiliar with the small screen herself, and she blushes, waving it away:

‘Oh yes, well, of course, people might have seen me on The Crown or on Dominic Littlewood’s Cowboy Builders, but I would say that neither of those times was really me. When I was on The Crown that role [as a flag-waving citizen] was life-changing, absolutely, but I was acting, you know; it wasn’t me. And then of course on Cowboy Builders I was the victim of a horrible crime, so I wasn’t my usual bubbly self. I must say, though, Dominic Littlewood is a gorgeous soul, he really is.’

I ask her what we should expect, then, and she considers this for a while before answering:

"I’ve had an incredibly interesting life, like Princess Diana"

‘You know, it’s “My Story”, so expect glamour, but also realness. Oh, and something easy on the eye, because a couple of friends have leant me their young men for the evening, so I have a couple of saucy specimens giving me a hand! Seriously, though, I would say there’s something for everyone (though there is an over 12 limit because it will cover some sensitive material).’

I ask her to elaborate, and she admits that things might get a bit personal, that this is a show about relationships and all aspects of personal health. She explains how telling her own story helps her help others:

‘The way I see it, it’s about vulnerability. I don’t like to brag but, you know, I’ve had an incredibly interesting life, and bringing the audience to Gail Land – it’s like Disneyland; it’s got glitz, glitter, sparkle, like Princess Diana. But it won’t be hyperpersonal. Case in point: I’m not going to talk about my four husbands. Why? Well, primarily, I won’t have the time, but also because it’s not likely to help people, because not many people will be once annulled and thrice divorced, but there might be some fellow yummy mummies like me, so you’ll get to know myself and my son Stuart intimately.’

I ask whether any audience members are likely to be made to feel uncomfortable by the format. She laughs, and shakes her glossy bob vigorously.

 ‘Oh, no! The show is absolutely a safe space; the audience will write down their problems beforehand and I won’t know who it applies to when I work through that issue on stage. You know, I don’t single people out; my advice is very vague and universal and that’s how I help so many people. So the audience participation is frank, yes, but not brash, you know, it won’t be humiliating or forced, but it will be real, it’s got to be real. The other thing is that I’m telling, not showing. I can’t show because I’m not trained, I’ll put my hands up to that now because I’ve been caught for that before.’

She does indeed put her hands up to it, and then extends them toward me for a hug as I thank her for the enlightening interview.

   Gail Summerfield: Older, Wiser, Funner, Sillier: My Story comes to the Corpus Playroom on the 5th and 6th of February, 9:30pm.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Staging in the sunshine: open air theatre in Cambridge

Get to know Gail – in her words

Interests

  • Crocheting
  • Good clean fun
  • Affordable high street fashion
  • Helping (general)
  • People!

 Skills

  • Being Milton Keynes’ premier Agony Aunt
  • Knowing other people’s business
  • Working well in a team
  • Working well on her own
  • Making a mean mojito!
  • Being a good mummy

 Loves

  • Stuart, her gorgeous son
  • Dogs (assorted)
  • Hen Dos
  • Kiss From a Rose by Seal
  • Jane McDonald

 Hates

  • Being time poor
  • Greed
  • Uncarpeted floors
  • Sparling water - ‘nuff said!

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