Doc­tor Who, Kylie and me

Deb­bie Chazen is star­ring in a BBC Three sketch show, but a much big­ger TV au­di­ence awaits. She talks to David Lasser­son

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

DEB­BIE CHAZEN MAKES room for a cou­ple of male ac­tors to leave t h e r e h e a r s a l space. “There go the ugly sis­ters!” She is re­hears­ing Cin­derella, this year’s pan­tomime at the Old Vic in Lon­don. Play­ing grotesque char­ac­ters for laughs is an area she is at home in. Chazen is cur­rently in Tit­ty­bang­bang, the rau­cous sketch show on BBC Three that of­fers a brac­ing breath of foul air ev­ery week. “The writ­ing’s a bit close to the bone, even for me,” she ad­mits.

Fans of the show will warm to her Maid Mar­ion and the queen of cos­metic surgery, Max­ine “It’s just a lit­tle bit of seep­age” Bendix. Week af­ter week, the 36-year-old Lon­don-born comic ac­tress knocks out a huge range of char­ac­ters, each with a dif­fer­ent ac­cent. “I love do­ing ac­cents. The pro­gramme is such fun to do. My favourite char­ac­ter is Paula, the darts player who has ter­ri­ble teeth and ex­ces­sive fa­cial hair.”

Of all the per­form­ers on Tit­ty­bang­bang, Chazen is, er, the tit­ti­est. “But Lucy Mont­gomery is preg­nant. She’s get­ting tit­tier,” she in­sists.

It could all have gone so dif­fer­ently. Her first job was in the Jewish com­mu­nity, as a youth worker at the Sternberg Cen­tre, the Re­form Ju­daism head­quar­ters in North Lon­don.This was in keep­ing with fam­ily tra­di­tion, since her sis­ter works at North West­ern Re­form Syn­a­gogue, where her fa­ther was a can­tor. Grow­ing up, there was a strong im­mi­grant Jewish flavour to their North L o n d o n house­hold. C h a z e n ’ s mother, who left Ber­lin for Eng­land as a child in 1939, would re­sort to Yid­dish when she didn’t want the chil­dren to un­der­stand.

But Jewish youth work was never go­ing to sat­isfy Chazen, who had spent her univer­sity years putting on plays while nom­i­nally study­ing Rus­sian and Span­ish. She even­tu­ally owned up to what she re­ally wanted to do. “I sud­denly thought: ‘I want to be an ac­tor.’ I au­di­tioned for drama school, got an agent be­fore I fin­ished my course, and I’ve been work­ing ever since.” When the agent asked her what kind of work she wanted to do, Chazen joked that she would love to be in a Mike Leigh film. She could hardly be­lieve it when she got a part in Topsy Turvy, Leigh’s award-win­ning film about com­posers Gil­bert and Sul­li­van. Leigh’s loose approach to cre­at­ing drama was a plea­sure. “It’s all in his head. There’s no script at all. I love im­pro­vi­sa­tion.”

On Christ­mas Day, she will be star­ring in BBC One’s Doc­tor Who as a ma­li­cious alien called Foon Van Hoff. She joins a stel­lar cast, in­clud­ing Kylie Minogue. “We talked about Big Brother ev­ery day in make-up. Then one day the house­mates on Big Brother had to de­vise a dance rou­tine to one of Kylie’s songs. She was so ex­cited.”

Com­edy is the area where Chazen is busiest — not that that was the plan. “At drama school I en­joyed do­ing classical tragedy. I played Clytemnes­tra. I was emot­ing for two hours, and at the end my friend came up and said, ‘You were so funny.’ Maybe I just look funny.”

Is there a Jewish flavour to her com­edy? Chazen cites her in­flu­ences: “I love Jackie Ma­son, and Woody Allen. It’s al­ways in your soul. There’s a res­o­nance when you hear that shtick.”

Deb­bie Chazen as a spoof Maid Mar­ion in BBC Three’s Tit­ty­bang­bang

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