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Morgana Robinson: ‘I’m the giant bogey that everyone sticks to’

Actor and comedian Morgana Robinson talks about leaving the ‘armour’ of impressions behind ahead of new series Newark, Newark

For the last 15 years Robinson has been appearing on our TV screens, but it’s only recently she’s revealed anything close to her own self.

That’s despite having her name in the title of 2010 Channel 4 sketch comedy The Morgana Show and playing a clutch of celebrities – Adele, Fern Cotton, Russell Brand, Danny Dyer – in impression satire Very Important People and Morgana Robinson’s The Agency.

Then there’s her essay of Pippa Middleton in The Windsors. She’s twice joined the panel of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, but both times in the guise of Sonia from EastEnders.

First impressions

The real Robinson is harder to pin down. Within 15 seconds of our interview starting she’s doing an impression of me. Asking where I’m from. Her instinct seems to be deflection. Her first answer contains the words: “ding, honk bing, bong, toot and beep. When she does answer more seriously, the responses swing from the surreal to soberingly honest.

In new three-part sitcom Newark, Newark, written by Nathan Foad, Robinson plays her most grounded character. Chippie counter worker Maxine has reached a crossroads, newly single at 40 trying to raise her 16-year-old son Leslie.

So can she start spreading the news about Newark, Newark?

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“Watch it, it’s brilliant.”

Is that enough of a reason to make people tune in?

“Ok, well, if you like watching idiots be idiots, they’ve cast the premium idiots on Newark, Newark.”

Those idiots would include Mathew Horne as Maxine’s jilted ex, Terry, and Beverley ‘Liz McDonald’ Callard as her riot of a mother, Pauline. But Maxine herself is a likeable, sensible woman.

“You know, for once I’m not the idiot. I’m the glue that holds everyone together, aren’t I? I’m the giant bogey that everyone sticks to.

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“Episode three is my favourite,” she continues, oblivious to how actors on promo duties are supposed to promote. “I always find the first episode, you’re setting everything up – it’s like a cold call. By episode three it really gets into the swing of things and I just think it sings. I’m so proud of ep three. And the other two.”

It’s a shame then that episode three is the final episode.

“I’ll eat everyone’s hats if we don’t get a second series,” she promises. Then it’s another question for me.

“Who was your favourite character? Obviously don’t say me.”

It’s a good ensemble piece, I say – and it really is. Beverley’s great, they should have shown more of that side of her on Coronation Street.

“Dame Callard. Missed a trick, didn’t they?” Robinson agrees.

And, I say, Maxine’s son Leslie (Jai Hollis) and his best friend Amber (Jessie Mae Alonzo) aren’t as annoying as young people on TV can sometimes be.

“We’ve got really cool kids, haven’t we? For once, it is actually quite a cool family show. A lot of them can feel a little bit stiff or vanilla. But this one’s got an edge, hasn’t it?”

Morgana Robinson plays Maxine, with Beverley Callard in Newark, Newark. Image: UKTV
Morgana Robinson plays Maxine, with Beverley Callard in Newark, Newark. Image: UKTV

Were your formative years as awkward as Leslie’s are turning out to be?

“They’re both navigating their way through a new chapter. You find [Maxine and Leslie] at this juncture where they’re both dealing with new things in their lives.

“You’ve got him desperately wishing he was the only gay in the village – and he’s not. Then you’ve got Maxine who is newly divorced, going to be out on the dating circuit again, but she’s 40, not 18 like the last time she was single. And there have to try and navigate this together as a pair.

“I had a confusing time growing up,” Robinson continues. “I mean, I wouldn’t say I was a lesbian but I definitely had a lot of fun. Your teenage years, they’re one of the toughest, if not the toughest, so far in my life. The hormones are crazy and you smell weird, you’re greasy. There’s lumps and bumps and all sorts.”

Apart from new body parts growing, aren’t people always coming of age, trying to find their direction in life?

“Do you feel like that? I’ve done a lot of soul searching. I did a lot of it during lockdown. I’m getting quietly more confident as I get older. I still have my wobbly days, but I’m in better shape than I was 10 years ago.

“And I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why I’m not hiding behind impressions anymore. I want to be a bit more real. I’m not scared to reveal myself so much as I was.

“I used to protect myself of layers of wigs and glasses and silly teeth. I guess I care less about what people think. Life’s too short, isn’t it?”

‘I said to myself, don’t try and make people laugh’

In the last couple of years, the real Morgana Robinson has appeared on TV. One of the first appearances was on Alan Davies As Yet Untitled, during which she admitted: “I am very uncomfortable right now being me.”

Perhaps the first time Morgana Robinson was herself on TV

“That was one of the first times I went on telly as me and yeah, and I still do find I’m more anxious,” she says. “Characters and wigs and everything, there’s a sort of armour there. So when I walk on as me, I feel like I’m walking with my tits out, you know, without a bra, or you know, swinging my balls in the air.

But you won the last series of Taskmaster, and got to accompany Richard Ayoade to Milan in Travel Man. So the real you is proving popular.

Morgana Robinson says she can’t watch herself in the episode of Travel Man she appeared in

Travel Man is a perfect example of me feeling very uncomfortable. If I shout and scream, the more extrovert I am, the more uncomfortable I am. I can’t watch Travel Man, I’m very, very nervous and anxious in it. Because I know me. I just think I come across as very annoying.

“So when I did Taskmaster, I said to myself, don’t try and make people laugh. Just shut up.”

That worked. Robinson won over social media with her warm wit, charm and took home the big golden Greg Davies head trophy.

“Best head I ever got,” Robinson says. “It’s in my bedroom. I have Greg Davies’ weird, searing eyes piercing through me as I sleep.”

You realise in the end that time’s a gift’

Robinson was born in Australia and moved to Britain where she was raised by her mother. For years they slept on sofas in other people’s houses. Sofa surfing, the tens of thousands of hidden homeless. is now a bigger issue than ever.

“A lot of people, if your parents split up and your mum is the sole breadwinner and sole carer of a child, and you’re not made of money, you’re going to run into a sticky situation.

“The thing is, my mum was the one that dealt with it. She was the stressed out one. But she always protected me. So I never felt homeless. There was always a roof over my head and there was always dinner on the table. So I was lucky. We always had friends and family to turn to.

“But yeah, we did that for a few years. When we did get a little council flat, I was 19, I’d just left school, it was amazing to have my own bedroom.”

She pauses.

“Yeah, it was beautiful. You appreciate things more. Just gratitude really. Very grateful.”

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Just as Maxine turns 40 in Newark, Newark, Robinson has only until 7 May until she reaches the same milestone. Did filming start the life evaluating early?

“I am proud of myself. I feel we should just be kind to ourselves,” she says. “There are things that haven’t worked out for me. I was engaged, I had a stillbirth. I don’t have a family. There are all sorts of ways that you don’t think life…” she tails off.

“You’re dealt the cards you’re dealt and you have to play them. So I guess I’m not where I thought I would be. But that’s no bad thing. You live, you learn. And I think you realise in the end that time’s a gift. You just have to use it in the best possible way.”

Newark, Newark airs 28-30 March at 9pm on Gold

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