Jane Asher - The Circle - Photography by Nobby Clark

Jane Asher first stepped foot onto the Oxford Playhouse stage aged 12 as the lead in Alice – a stage adaption of Lewis Carroll‘s two most revered books.

“I remember that even though I was quite young it was really exhausting because of course Alice is on stage the whole time. And while these amazing creatures come and go, I was always there, so it was fun but relentless.

“And yet when I appeared at the Oxford Playhouse‘s 80th celebrations to perform Lewis Carroll‘s Jabberwocky, I remembered it word-for-word from all those years ago. Very strange,” she says.

Jane Asher, Nicholas Le Prevost – The Circle – Photography by Nobby Clark

65 years later, she’s not only back, but has never really gone away, having worked constantly. Remarkably non-plussed about her seven decades in show business, having emerged as a child star aged five in the film 1952’s Mandy, she went from strength to strength, steering her career through films, TV, stage and radio and even a stint as Paul McCartney’s girlfriend.

“I’m just lucky to still have a job”

From cinematic classics such as Alfie with Michael Caine, to The Prince and The Pauper, dramas such as Brideshead Revisited and soaps including Holby City and Waterloo Road, her CV runs on and on, especially her theatrical credits. Oh and she has written three novels.

Jane Asher. pic c/o Oxford Playhouse

In fact the only time Jane Asher seems to have reined it in is when she had three children with her husband of 30 years the illustrator Gerald Scarfe, instead finding herself at the forefront of a burgeoning cake empire, of all things.

The fact that she couldn’t be nicer is an extra bonus, as she waxes lyrical about Somerset Maugham’s sparky comedy of manners The Circle, coming to Oxford Playhouse next month (we already have our tickets!). In it she plays Lady Kitty, a society beauty who ran away with her lover 30 years before, finally returning to England to face her family. Cue drama.

“coming from a state school helped keep my feet on the ground because I was ribbed if I ever talked about my acting at school”

It premiered at The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond last year and did so well that the cast were then asked to tour: “We were all very keen because the audience clearly enjoyed it – it is terribly funny – and we all get on so well. So I thought why not?

“I’ve always been a Somerset Maugham fan and this is a wonderful part to play,” she adds. So does Jane Asher actually like Lady Kitty? “I certainly warmed to her, and felt great sympathy for her predicament, having been totally ostracised for so long. But she is certainly not a frail old lady wearing black and lace, and so the story unravels with quite a twist!

Jane Asher – The Circle – Photography by Nobby Clark

“But then Somerset Maugham was always sympathetic to the plight of women, being terribly unhappily married and a gay man, so The Circle has huge depth. It’s very clever, funny and simple at the same time.”

“my children were always my number one priority”

Now 77, Jane Asher’s energy shows no sign of abating, although she sympathises with Lady Kitty’s struggle with ageing. “We all know how that feels,” she chuckles. “But yes as an actress you sit around and hope people will ask you to do something you like. And now that the children have grown up, I am freer to go on tour or location, so I like a mix of both, but I know I have been extremely lucky.”

Nicholas Le Prevost, Jane Asher, Daniel Burke, Pete Ashmore – The Circle – Photography by Nobby Clark

“Of course notoriety dips and wanes, and you get older there are less parts, so I just try to enjoy my work. I think coming from a state school helped keep my feet on the ground because I was ribbed if I ever talked about my acting at school, and my parents were very down-to-earth. So there was no pressure. It was all because I wanted to do it,” she says.

“And then when I had the children I fitted things around them, taking them to the studio with me as long as I was back in time to get their tea ready, because they were always my number one priority.”

So does she ever have time to look back over her career? “Oh no, that would be terribly nostalgic but it’s nice when people come up to me and say we saw you in this or that, and I think ‘oh yes I remember’. I’m just lucky to still have a job.”

Jane Asher stars in The Circle at Oxford Playhouse from Tue 6 – Sat 10 Feb. Book here https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/the-circle