Katherine Parkinson says I May Destroy You was like therapy

Jen Crothers
·6-min read
Photo credit: Jeff Spicer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff Spicer - Getty Images

While most of us have struggled to do anything of note in the past 12 months (and that's fine, right?), Katherine Parkinson has been busy.

After roles in The IT Crowd, Humans, Defending The Guilty and a well-established stage career, Katherine's taking up another big part. The BAFTA-winning and Olivier-nominated actor has turned her hand to writing, with her debut play Sitting airing on BBC Four this month.

Comedy drama Sitting ran as part of the Edinburgh Festival in 2018 and is now part of BBC Lights Up; a major festival of UK theatre adapted for TV and radio at a time when theatres throughout the UK are closed.

Photo credit: Avalon/DavidMonteit
Photo credit: Avalon/DavidMonteit

It's about three subjects who sit for a painter and open up to him and or the first time, Katherine is appearing in the show too. So she not only wrote the thing, she's starring in it too as former punk and single mum, Mary.

Before the show airs on 7 April, Good Housekeeping spoke to Katherine about pre-show nerves, baby mania and the catharsis she found in Michaela Coel's work...

How did Sitting come about? I had a sort of germ of an idea, and at the time, there was lots of chat about how there aren't enough female playwrights. Then during lockdown, I got a call saying we're going to do a season of plays filmed with so we might want to do sitting for the radio or TV. The idea wasn't that I was going to be in it, but they suggested I'd be in it, and of course, all my work had fallen by the wayside. The actress that had done it originally said it would be cathartic for me to do because it's quite personal. So I decided to do it, and I'm really pleased I did because I really enjoyed it.

Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

How personal is Sitting to you? I suppose any writing is personal, but it's all a bit rejigged. All the elements are true, like there's been suicide in my family, and the dealing with that. When you write, you think, ‘Oh I'll take this out before I give it in, this is far too personal’ and of course, you don't take any of it out. I’ve got a new respect for all writers of any kind. If I"m acting something, it's behind the mask of the character. It's incredibly liberating and you can always blame the writer or the director for the production - so this was a new experience. It made me feel newly vulnerable, because I seemed to care more. I realised how much I'd cared less and how I haven't given a s**t in the past!

Was it particularly nerve wracking being outside your acting comfort zone? I did feel like that, and I'll probably feel that that all over again when it goes out. It's just because it is such a setting out of ‘This is me, these are my words and my taste’ and you want other people to enjoy it. But I’m really pleased with it. The two actors, Mark Weinman and Alex Jarrett are just wonderful. I feel like I owe them both a car... but I don't have the money to do that.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Culturally, what have you missed most over the last 12 months? Ironically, because everything slowed down, I’ve probably ingested more culture than ever before. I've had these quite busy periods of work, doing plays or filming and suddenly things stopped. I was homeschooling in the day and then needed to soak up some... I was going to say adult material - just something that's not aimed at under eights. So we've had that really precious time when the children are asleep and I feel completely grateful to have been able to watch something in the evening because it's kept us sane.

What have you been watching? I watched Normal People on my own, actually, which I'm quite pleased I did, just because it felt so emotionally intimate. It really resonated and I found that a very enriching experience. I also really enjoyed Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You too because I found it really cathartic.

I had an assault in my 20s, an ABH [actual bodily harm] situation. I haven't had therapy, and I'm from a generation that’s a bit ‘brush it under the carpet’, but her show really made me feel like she'd done some work on me. The message kind of being, control your hate, it doesn't help you and that sort of thing. I’ve missed the theatre too.

Photo credit: Avalon
Photo credit: Avalon

How did you find homeschooling? My eldest was great. My youngest is just a typical six year old and doesn't want to do it. It's just hilarious when you find yourself doing really basic six-year-old maths on your own late at night, and then submitting it as if it's them. 'What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Trying to draw shapes so they look like they've been drawn by a six year old?' I'm happy to admit that that's what I ended up doing. The conscientious part of you just wants to tick off the tasks.

Did you have any epiphanies in lockdown? I had a sense of asking myself if I should have a very late third baby. Not that it would even be a possibility, but I think there was a slight sense that I could just get one under the wire. And then I thought, ‘Don't be so ridiculous!’ But I think there is a kind of mania that grips you at this age where we're faced with your own dwindling fertility. Then when the world stopped, there was a mad part of me that thought 'This is all meant to be. This is all so I could have a third baby.’ That was a kind of monthly conversation I had to have with myself.

Katherine Parkinson’s Sitting is part of BBC Lights Up and airs on Wednesday 7th April at 10.30pm on BBC Four

Sitting is presented as part of BBC Lights Up; a major festival of UK theatre adapted for TV and radio at a time when theatres throughout the UK are closed. Continuing its Culture in Quarantine initiative - bringing arts and culture into the nation’s homes – BBC Arts has partnered with theatres across the country to produce this unprecedented season of 18 plays for audiences at home.

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