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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 02:33 GMT 03:33 UK
Jo Brand's Fringe return

By Rebecca Thomas
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

Comic Jo Brand has already shown her energy and versatility once this year in Celebrity Fame Academy - now she is doing it again at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Brand is performing in two shows at the Fringe festival - one is stand-up but the other sees her in an usually dramatic role.

Jo Brand and Helen Griffin
Jo Brand and Helen Griffin met when training to be nurses

Brand is starring alongside her actress friend Helen Griffin in Mental - a two-character play set overnight in a psychiatric hospital.

"These days you have to be flexible," Brand says. "I don't hold any candle for drama versus comedy.

"I'm not a brilliant actress so if it doesn't work I'll just put it down to experience."

The play's setting is one Brand and Griffin know well. They met when training to become psychiatric nurses in London in the late 1970s.

The play is based partly on their experiences and it attempts to present a "slice of the sort of thing you might see" as nurse on a night shift.

"Everything becomes magnified at night. Sounds travel in a different way, it's dark and everything seems far more spooky," Brand explains.

"There were lots of shadows and people wandering about and though there is nothing really to be scared of in a psychiatric hospital, it made you scared.

"I never wanted to work at night again once I had finished my training."

Clichés

The play centres, unsurprisingly, around the theme of mental illness and is an updated version of a work written by Brand and Griffin six years ago.

They are very different genres but with a couple of lagers I should be fine
Jo Brand on her two Fringe shows

Its tone is mixed, moving between the serious and humorous. But no one should expect a work loaded with virtuous meaning, says Brand.

"Hopefully it makes a some serious points indirectly but we are not trying to be didactic.

"There are so many clichés associated with mental health - such as the 'fine line between lunacy and genius' - which are on the whole a load of rubbish.

"They have nothing to do with real life or people with mental illness."

Brand's mother had been a social worker and she grew up knowing a lot about people with mental health problems.

"I have never been frightened or thought they were odd. I just thought they were normal human beings who were having a bit of a hard time," says Brand.

Stamina

Brand ventured into stand-up comedy when she was 30. She has since established herself as one of the most successful female comics in the UK.

Jo Brand
Brand took part in Celebrity Fame Academy for Comic Relief

Some of her most fruitful comedy gigs have been at the Fringe, where she was nominated for the Perrier award in 1992. She returns in 2003 after an absence of several years.

Brand intends each day to go straight from performing Mental to giving her comedy set - her "first love". The saving grace is that both shows are at the same theatre.

The gear shift from one production to the next - and the stamina required to do both each day until 25 August - would test most performers.

But Brand is approaching the challenge with her customary dry humour.

"I have no idea how it's going to work out, ask me in a few weeks when I am in a mental hospital myself," Brand says.

"They are very different genres but with a couple of lagers I should be fine."

And did being on Celebrity Fame Academy show her useful ways of surviving a tough test?

"It taught me you can't believe a lot of what you see on TV," Brand says, adding that she always went home each day from the academy even though all the pupils were supposedly resident.

"People are so different in reality from the picture created of them on TV. So it's all a creation, everything is made up."

Click here for News Online's review of Mental

Jo Brand can be seen in Mental and her self-titled comedy set at the Assembly Rooms until 25 August.


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