THE FRAGILITY of female friendship, the sense of loss when babies arrive on the scene, the ticking of the biological clock . . .
There are a full house of themes contained in Bingo, a new comedy musical that’s set to appear in Glasgow.
And actress Jo Free is loving the chance to play a woman on the edge.
“I play Ruth, who is Daniella’s (Louise McCarthy) best friend since they were five,” she explains.
“Ruth is a new mum to a baby boy and they are all part of a group of women who enjoy a night out at the bingo every week.
“Ruth is desperate for a good night out but anxious at the same time. She can’t quite cut the cord with the baby. Half of her brain is still at home and she’s highly stressed.”
Jo adds; “I think this is true to life for lots of new mums – and new dads – who can’t quite make the separation with the baby.”
Jo Freer loves the chance to play characters which stretch her skills.
She’s not an actress who entered the business in the hope of playing a series of satin ball gown-wearing creatures who marry princes.
“I love playing grotesques,” she says grinning, and she’s not exaggerating. Her most recent grotesque was the Tron panto’s Dora the Dormouse, a mutton-dressed-as-mutton Glesga wummin with perpetual dancin’ feet and a sharp one-liner delivery. Her Dora was exquisite.
“Give me a pair of leopard print tights and an acrylic fur coat and I’m happy,” says the lady who grew up in Glasgow’s south side.
Now, Jo is back in printed tights with Bingo, written by Johnny McKnight and Anita Vettesse.
But as well as the role calling for lots of angst and nervous energy, the play contains a dark plotline which sees friendships tested harder than the idea of playing ten bingo books at the one time.
We learn the group of bingo women are planning to go away for Betty’s (Jane McCarry) hen do, in a few weeks time.
They have been saving for months to have their breakaway. But then the break is threatened with an astonishing discovery.
“The play is very funny and has great music,” says Jo, “but it comes with reality, showing people who survive on very little money.
“It’s features women who’ve had to save for a hen do, the sacrifices they’ve had to make. And then it all crashes. And the concept of honesty is suddenly all that matters.”
The play also focuses on the changing relationships of women who have babies and friends who don’t.
“Daniella feels abandoned since Ruth’s baby was born,” says Jo.
“It’s a really interesting notion; suddenly pals have babies and you don’t see as much of them. And this is really true to life.”
It’s true of actresses.
“In the play there’s a wedding planned, and this creates a sense of someone else being left behind.
“In the arts, that can be the case. It’s a life in which you struggle for work and are focused on a career, and you have to be because it’s such a competitive career.
“But meantime, your friends who are Muggles, normal people with normal lives, are doing all these normal things.”
She offers a wry smile; “With actors there can be an arrested development.”
Has Jo’s personal life been impacted upon by her career choice?
“I think given the demands of the job some things are put on the back burner,” she offers.
“It’s not because we’re seeking the massively big career break but because we go from job to job, with one foot on the next thing. And in some ways life can slip away from you.”
She adds, smiling; “But not in terms of experiences. In some ways we get to experience life in a much more vigorous or intense way.”
The former Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate’s career experience has offered Jo the chance to convince as one of the most talented and versatile performers in the country.
But in spite of her plaudits, modesty hasn’t been jettisoned along the way.
This emerges when Jo talks about singing in Bingo!
“I think this is my fourth musical and I still have to talk myself down off the ceiling,” she says, grinning. “I’m so nervous.
“I think it’s because I trained as an actor rather than in musical theatre. There is a real difference.”
Come on, Jo. You’re just being an actor. You can sing standing on your head.
She laughs; “Well, I guess, I can at least act my way through a song.”
But it seems she’s not been shy when it comes to dancing during rehearsals.
The little funny steps Jo developed for Dora have re-emerged, this time performed by Ruth.
“When we were rehearsing for Bingo it got to the end of the day, and one scene had music running into the dialogue.
“And I danced a bit and the choreographer said he really liked a little footstep I did.”
She adds, laughing; “He wanted me to repeat it and then I realised what I’d done. I’d become Dora. It seemed to be a default setting.”
Jo will try not to replicate the steps when playing Ruth, but will we ever see her Dora again?
“Maybe when it’s time to launch Dora’s one-woman show,” she says, smiling.