Meet Sheffield Actress Jessica Ransom of Doc Martin and Horrible Histories Fame
Now that Doc Martin is no longer gracing our screens, his medical receptionist Morwenna Newcross (or Sheffield-born actress Jessica Ransom, as she's known outside of Cornwall) is taking her skills to stage
Jessica studied at High Storrs School in Sheffield. ‘We had amazing drama teachers, and as part of Sheffield Children’s Festival, lots of the secondary schools were offered two nights at the Crucible Theatre, so we did our school plays on the main stage there, which was just incredible,’ she says. ‘I guess that’s where I realised it was so exciting to be an actor. I studied drama at university, but ended up after that starting to write my own work. I took shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it all sprung from there.’
Since then she’s appeared in the sketch show The Armstrong and Miller Show, and in the improvisation show Fast and Loose. But you might know her best as Morwenna Newcross in ITV’s Doc Martin (you can’t really forget her colourful mismatched outfits). She also appeared in series four of Horrible Histories and series six to eight of its 2015 revival, winning a Children’s BAFTA for her role as Mary, Queen of Scots.
‘I’ve been so fortunate to have these two lovely jobs on Horrible Histories and Doc Martin,’ she tells us. ‘They’ve been running concurrently over the last 10 years. Horrible Histories is so much fun as an actor because you get to show off all your accents and play a million different characters in day – but it’s hectic and it’s hard work. Doc Martin is a dream gig because you get to go and live by the sea for four months at a time. It’s actually really exciting for me because the play came along just as the filming for those two things came to an end. I haven’t been on stage for 10 years so this feels like perfect timing to get my live chops back to work.’
Along with Doctors’ Diane Keen and Eastenders’ Neil McDermott, she’s now leading the cast in a thought-provoking new comedy written by Laura Wade about a woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950s housewife. ‘I first met Laura when I was 14 at Crucible Youth Theatre when she wrote her first play,’ Jessica says. ‘She’s so brilliant at writing fully-rounded characters and their opinions, and lives and own identities. Home, I’m Darling is a play about a woman called Judy (who I play) and her husband, (who’s played by Neil). They absolutely love the 1950s – the aesthetics, the values – so they decide to live their lives by those ideals and standards. He goes out to work and she stays home and is a housewife. The play is really funny but it’s also, at its heart, an examination of whether what they’re doing is a good idea and whether their relationship can survive when she’s sort of a prisoner of her own home.’
Swapping screen life for stage life comes with its advantages, Jessica explains. ‘For telly, you do a lot of the prep yourself. You do most of the thinking about your character and your back story in isolation,’ she says. ‘You can always ask questions but you turn up pretty much ready to do it. Whereas for the play we’ve had four luxurious weeks of rehearsals where we could talk about things and get to know each other and work out the rhythms of the play and that continues. We’ve been on tour for 10 weeks now and I’m still finding new elements – you get more goes at it. But, when you’re doing telly, if you stuff up a line, you can say it again, whereas in theatre you’ve just got to wing it and plough on. But I love the live response. It’s nice to hear laughs in the room, but this play is so thought-provoking that it’s not just laughs we’re getting – there’s gasps too. It’s really exciting to know that you’re provoking these responses in people.’
Jessica is most excited about bringing the play to Sheffield. ’It’s really nice to be going home for a week,’ she laughs. ‘It’s exciting because I’ve got lots of people coming – people who I was at school with, my old drama teacher and my mum and dad and their friends. What’s so interesting about it is that it effects people generationally. For people of my parents’ generation, Diane who plays my mum has an amazing speech in the play which basically says “this isn’t what the 50s was like, it wasn’t all beautiful and like a gingham paradise, it was actually really cold, really hard work and people were racist and sexist and it was hideous”. People of that generation are agreeing.
‘For people of my generation, there’s a feminist argument in it, which is if it’s your choice, is it not a feminist thing to stay at home and be a housewife? Or should you be out working and should you not be taking advantage of the things that were fought for? The play was written in 2018 and won Best Comedy at the Oliviers in 2019, but since then we’ve had a pandemic which has given us all a different relationship with our homes. The fact that Judy stays at home every day; we’ve just had two years of doing that. That’s a new angle on it.’
Home, I’m Darling comes to the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from Tuesday 18th–Saturday 22nd April.
Favourite place to walk in the North.
The Peak District – that’s where we went paddling at Padley Gorge and we did our school sponsored walks there. Its lovely rolling hills and endless skies are where my heart is.
An item you couldn’t live without.
I’m going to try not to say my mobile phone! Pockets. Everything I wear has to have pockets. I’ve always got stuff; some mints or some entertainment for my children. I’ve got two kids so there’s always some sort of weird plastic lizard in my pocket to try and distract them from having a meltdown. So, clothes with pockets.
A series or podcast you recommend.
I’m watching Succession at the moment – I’m completely obsessed with it. But everyone’s watching that! I listened to a really good podcast called British Scandal. It analyses different British scandals throughout the years and it’s really juicy.
Advice you’d give your younger self.
What’s for you won’t go by you.
Advice for budding actors.
Make your own work. Write, do things, meet people who want to do similar things to you, don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you, just keep yourself active and then you won’t feel like you’re ever just waiting – that’s the thing that’s the hardest.
An actor you haven’t worked with yet, but would like to.
Lots! You hope that they’re all nice, but maybe they could be a good actor and not very nice in reality. One of my very best friends is an actor, Fiona Button, and we did a show at university together but we’ve never actually worked together so I’d say her, because I know she’s nice!
What’s it actually like working with Martin Clunes?
Oh, so lovely! On that job we’re all at home because we’ve been doing it for so long, and the crew came back every year. It’s a really weird thing as an actor turning up to do one episode of something when everyone else has been there for months, so when a guest actor came on set we tried to make sure they know that no one is there to try and trick them and they don’t have to prove themselves – we’re all just there having a nice time. That’s a result of how Martin and his wife Philippa, who produces it, run their ship – by looking after each other and being kind.
Hopes and plans for the future?
I’d like to just get another job… please. Gone are the days where you sit wishing for a particular thing to come your way. You just want to keep working! A year ago I had no idea I’d be doing a play and the thought of that terrified me, but now I love it so whatever comes next must be the right thing.