Stroud Times sat down with Bridget Christie to preview The Change, a C4 star-studded comedy drama which is set to be screened tonight, Wednesday, June 21 at 10PM.
Created, written by and starring the multi-award-winning Gloucester-born stand-up comedian Christie,51, the six-part series follows Linda, played by Christie, a 50-year-old, married, working-class mother-of-two having an existential crisis prompted by the menopause.
The show also stars Susan Lynch, who lives in Dursley, plays Agnes, one of the eel sisters who run the Eel Café. The comedy also stars Paul Whitehouse, Liza Tarbuck, Jerome Flynn, Omid Djalili, Monica Dolan and Stroud-based Boss Morris – an all female Morris Dancing side.
The Big Interview
Ash Loveridge: Bridget, The Change is a comedy drama about Linda, a 50-year-old, married, working-class, mother-of-two who’s having an existential crisis prompted by the menopause. After realising how much time she’s spent doing invisible work for those around her, she jumps on her motorbike and returns to the Forest of Dean, where she spent time as a child. Bridget, you star as Linda, but you also wrote and produced the series. What was your original vision for The Change?
Bridget Christie: I wanted to create a show with an ordinary, relatable story at its heart, but place it in an extraordinary setting, to capture the mundanity of our day to day lives but also the magic and beauty all around us that we miss because we’re too busy to notice. So, we have two contrasting worlds – one of grey, suburban domesticity and the other of vivid, rural community life.
I spent a lot of time as a child in the 1970s in the Forest of Dean, not far from where I grew up in Gloucester, and it holds a very special place in my heart.
It’s a unique part of the world, both in terms of its outstanding natural beauty but also in that it has a very specific identity – one that is very hard for people to understand unless they’ve been there. It hasn’t been gentrified because of its transport links and it hasn’t been overdeveloped because of strict planning laws, so it has this timeless quality to it.
Also, as a child, it always felt a little bit American to me, partly because of the majestic pine and redwoods, but also because of the way people dressed – men would be wearing checked shirts and baseball caps or cowboy hats, and I always remember an old Chevy parked up somewhere.
This is why The Change has that slightly Americana feel to it, whilst at the same time being quintessentially British. I’ve tried to take my childhood memories of a specific time and place and put them on screen. I took a lot of inspiration from films of that era, like Deliverance and The Deer Hunter, where the sense of place and community is so integral to the story, where you think of the landscape not just as a location, but as a character too.
We used particular lenses and colour palette and shot it in a certain ratio to give it that cinematic quality. I wanted to make people feel nostalgic but to not know why. Basically, the show is a love letter to the Forest of Dean and to women, borne out of my childhood memories.
AL: In your most recent stand-up show, Who Am I? you discussed the fact that there aren’t enough menopausal characters on TV, and that menopause isn’t discussed enough in mainstream culture. Why do we need more menopausal characters?
BC: Menopause is huge. Every single woman on the planet will go through it. Every single person on the planet will, by association, be affected by it, whether it’s your mother, wife, daughter, sister, niece, auntie, whoever, and so it seems absurd we’re not seeing many female characters going through it. A huge part of us has been erased.
When it happened to me, I didn’t know my symptoms were caused by the menopause. I’ve got five older sisters and I never talked to them about theirs. My mum had a very difficult, never-ending menopause but we only talked about it on a very superficial level I never asked her how she felt or if I could help in any way. I wasn’t as empathetic or as supportive as I could or should have been and I regret that. In lockdown I started looking at every older woman I saw out and about and thinking: Did you go through it by yourself?
Did you talk to anybody? Did you have to give up work? Did your family support you? I felt an overwhelming sadness, imagining them battling through it alone, perhaps embarrassed or humiliated at work, or ignored by their families, but I also felt angry. Of course, there will be many women who go through menopause with love and support from their families and friends and colleagues, but many won’t. I’d like that to change. Talking about it more openly, both privately and publicly and seeing ourselves on screen can only help. It was important to me that Linda took control of her menopause and used it as a catalyst to change her life in a positive way, because I think the menopause is generally seen as a negative thing, and while a lot of women will struggle, many won’t, and we need to see more of that. We need to stop fearing it and give young women the knowledge and tools to handle it better than previous generations.
It is changing… Davina McCall’s documentary made a huge difference in terms of public awareness, there are campaigns now and lobbying for policy changes for menopausal women in the workplace and better access to HRT but there’s still a way to go
AL: How will The Change help to fill that space?
BC: Our protagonist is a menopausal woman who takes back control of her life and goes off on a journey of self-discovery.
We are seeing more and more older women in lead roles and that’s obviously fantastic but there’s still a way to go – but the menopause is never written into those storylines. We don’t often see them having symptoms or talking to other female characters or their partners or work colleagues about it. So, while it’s great we’re seeing more and more older women taking these central parts, a big part of them has been erased.
The menopause is still this invisible thing on screen, and when it is written into a storyline, it’s not usually done as explicitly as it is here, where it’s at the heart of the story.
AL: How much has your own life and your experience of the menopause fed into the writing of the show?
BC: I had the same menopause symptoms as Linda but in terms of my own life, not much of it bled into the show. I did go to the Forest of Dean as a child, I do ride a motorbike and I do have two children, but all my sisters are lovely and I have a job that I love and find very fulfilling, so I never felt like I’d lost my path in life or my identity.
I am very lucky in that sense. Most people don’t have jobs that they enjoy and find themselves in middle-age having lost sight of who they are and their sense of purpose. I do wish I’d started writing a chore ledger years ago, but I only thought about it when I started writing the show!
AL: Tell us about creating the different characters. Who did you have most fun writing, and which character was most challenging to write?
BC: It was an absolute joy creating and writing all the characters. The Change is the first comedy drama I’ve written. I’m a stand up and so I’ve only ever really written for myself, so I found it hugely creatively satisfying, getting inside their heads and thinking about what they’d say and do. None of the characters are based on real people so I felt I could really make them say anything and it was joyful when it came to casting them all.
And what a cast, my God! I have to say all the characters were fun to write, and I genuinely don’t have a favourite, but because Tony (Paul Whitehouse) and the Verderer (Jim Howick) are the most extreme characters, who say the most extreme things, I did have a lot of fun coming up with terrible things for them to say.
I felt like I really got to know all the characters well and found it so interesting when something I’d written for them just wasn’t right. You immediately know when it’s wrong when they just wouldn’t say something like that. It’s almost like you have a duty not to misrepresent them. Fascinating process. I also found it interesting how some characters were better suited for carrying big storylines and others were better on the periphery and dropped in and out when needed.
I would say Linda was the most challenging to write as she has to carry the show whilst not overshadowing everyone else, be believable but also funny, go through various stages of development, ride a motorbike, quickly, over uneven forest tracks, be dunked underwater, wear a massive headdress and cloak in boiling hot weather and be dragged out of a caravan, kicking and screaming.
AL: When it came to casting the stars of the show, alongside you playing Linda, the characters of Joy, Agnes and Carmel are all played by women around 50. Why was it crucial that both the stars and characters are women of this age? Is it rare to find that on TV?
BC: It was really important to me that Linda, and all the female characters in the show, were women over 50 played by actors over 50, because we don’t often see that, and we should. When I think about all of the most impressive people I know, both personally and publicly, they are increasingly women over 50 and I just think that should be reflected on screen more. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It isn’t difficult to find inspiration! And why are women still being cast in parts that are either much younger or much older than them? Infuriating.
AL: Characters in the show are brought together in the fight to protect nature. Tell us about the environmental themes in The Change and why you wanted this to be a facet of the story?
BC: Climate change is the biggest threat we are facing, and the more we can talk about that the better. It’s easy for us to think that we as individuals can’t make any difference, that it’s hopeless and we’re out of time, but we must have hope. We can make a difference. We can change our diets, our lifestyles, we can buy products that don’t harm animals or the environment, we can join marches and protests, we can make art and we can TALK about it.
I’m lucky enough to be a writer/performer with a platform and it seems a huge waste not to use it for the greater good. I’ve been so inspired by human stories of individual bravery, both local to where I live in Hackney and of those up and down the country, people standing up for what they believe in, people just wanting to protect our planet for future generations.
I wanted to show how passionate and angry people are about the destruction we are causing – cutting down our ancient forests and woodlands, polluting our rivers and seas, investing in fossil fuels, the list just goes on and on. Human emotion can be a very powerful thing. I don’t believe this government, or the majority of the British media are doing their bit. The message isn’t getting through, but stories can. Stories are what connect us, stories have the power to change hearts and minds. I hope mine does. In some small way.
AL: The series culminates with the Eel Festival – a local tradition where the forest people come together to celebrate. After years of Eel Kings, Linda becomes the first Eel Queen, and the festivalgoers celebrate the different stages of a woman’s life, repeating the mantra: ‘May all your transitions be joyful!’. Tell us about the ideas behind the festival itself and why you wanted to depict the community coming together to celebrate the life journey of women?
BC: I always wanted to end the series with a folk festival. I just didn’t know what it would look like. Eels were the obvious thing to use as they are such a big part of the community, but I also wanted the festival to be a celebration of women – and I struggled for a long time to find that connection – between eels and women, but then I found out about the bizarre life cycle of eels – they are all born in the Sargasso Sea, and they only choose what gender to be when they decide to return to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce and die. So, I had the idea that we could mark the biological stages of a woman’s life. So, we have puberty, menopause, and rebirth, when she finally returns to her true self.
The stations idea came from my Catholic upbringing and the Good Friday tradition of the Stations of the Cross, where the journey of Jesus’s crucifixion is depicted in a series of images. I always found it very powerful and profound and thought it would be a good way of depicting the burden of womanhood. I also wanted it to be very female led as historically, women haven’t been a big part of our folk festivals and rituals, they’ve tended to be very male dominated and patriarchal, so it was important to me that women were at the heart of the Eel Festival, not just in terms of the themes, but also in the imagery, so we have an Eel Queen and female Morris dancers.
AL: British folklore and folk music are an important part of the look and feel of the series. Tell us how you wove these themes into The Change?
BC: During lockdown, I suddenly realised how much I loved my country. How rich in history and culture it is, how beautiful our landscape is, and how great as a people we can be. I felt very patriotic, and I realised that since Brexit, being patriotic is seen as a bad thing and I wanted to reclaim it. Weaving British folklore and folk music into the show seemed like the best way of doing that. Brexit was a disaster for this country. It tore families apart and divided communities. I’m not sure we’ve fully recovered from that, and it still makes me furious, but our festivals give us an opportunity to forget about our differences. I love the fact that on certain days of the year, up and down the country, we dress up in mad costumes, put bells on our ankles, get the fiddles out, drink warm bitter, and celebrate this magical land of ours.
AL: Do you have a favourite scene?
BC: No! The town hall meeting maybe? The baptism? Honestly, I don’t think I can pick a favourite.
AL: This is your first time writing and starring in your own TV series. How have you found it, and what are your highlights from this whole experience?
BC: I’ve found it the most professionally rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Getting a TV show off the ground is one of the most arduous, difficult things to do in this industry.
There are so few slots and so many of us and the process is very, very long, but I have genuinely loved every minute of it.
I’ve been very lucky with my executive producers at Expectation (Nerys Evans, who was there right from the beginning, many years ago, and the show would be rubbish without Morwenna Gordon who was with me on the scripts night and day) and with Channel 4 who gave great feedback as well as the creative freedom to realise my vision for the show.
It’s been genuinely life-affirming. I don’t think I could pick a highlight to be honest but filming with my beautiful cast and crew and then seeing the final episodes, all scored and graded was a very special moment.
AL: You talked about your original vision for story and the look and feel of this series. Is the final product what you’d always hoped it would be?
AL: What do you hope viewers will take away from The Change?
BC: I hope the themes of the show resonate with people and I hope they finish the series with hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies. That they feel inspired to make changes in their own lives and I hope there is a household chore revolution!
The Change will start on C4, Wednesday, June 21 at 10PM with the first two episodes in a six part series airing back-to-back.