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May 03, 2018

Meera Syal On ‘The Split’ Is Breaking Serious Ground On Television

Text by Nisha Paul

One of UK’s best-known Indian personalities, the comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress plays a riveting character on the new BBC 1 television series

Meera Syal plays the stylish, suffering wife of a British corporate on the new BBC 1 television series The Split who suddenly announces, amongst the throes of his midlife challenges, that he wants a divorce.

The plot revolves around a family of high-flying female lawyers and is set in London, which seems to be fast becoming the divorce capital of the world. The new BBC 1 television series The Split is slick, engrossing and scripted by acclaimed BAFTA and Primetime Emmy award-winning screenwriter Abi Morgan. It focuses on the co-dependency in modern marriages and shifting perspectives of people at different stages of loving and leaving, the ramifications of abandonment and failure whilst people try to balance their lives like a unicyclist in a snake pit. The series explores the legacy of divorce through the fast track circuit of three sisters who are all competitive, successful lawyers, battling personal issues in their own lives.

Meera Syal plays the stylish, suffering wife of a British corporate who suddenly announces, amongst the throes of his midlife challenges, that he wants a divorce. In the first episode, she stoically captures the sudden shock and pain of a wife who, after numerous years in a marriage, is abruptly betrayed by her husband, as he has colluded with her recently widowed girlfriend and abandoned her to fend for herself.

What cemented your decision to be part of The Split?
“I always start with what the script is like because that’s the rock upon which everything else is built. And when it’s an Abi Morgan script, you know you are going to be pretty thrilled. Her writing is so humane, layered, intelligent and of course, she writes amazing roles for women. The Split is, in fact, an all-female team, from our writer, Abi, to our producers, Jane Featherstone and Lucy Dyke and our brilliant director, Jessica Hobbes. That was certainly a factor too; its a rare and beautiful thing to be working on a set where all the creative heads are female and such a shame that it’s rare enough for it to feel special. It goes without saying that the role of Goldie herself captivated me straight away — a loyal wife of 30 years who has devoted her entire life to her husband, creating and running his business with him at the cost of putting her own life on hold along — and then is dumped without any explanation. It is a cruel and sadly familiar situation for many women watching and when you see her whole journey from the first shock to the final court case, it’s so beautifully written that there was no way I could’ve turned down the part.

What was the experience like working with the cast and crew of The Split? Did you bond with Nicola Walker?
It was a very happy, creative and relaxed set. Jessica created an atmosphere where everyone just wanted to do their best work and felt free to do so. I already knew Nicola as she had filmed three series playing opposite my husband, Sanjeev, in the ITV drama Unforgotten. He had already told me how brilliant, generous and lovely she was to work with, and he was right!

Was there a scary or daunting experience whilst filming the series? 
I can’t recall a particularly scary incident, although some of the scenes were pretty unnerving as they were high on emotion and the stakes were quite high. That’s always a little nerve-wracking for an actor as you want to do justice to the writing and you do have to enter that zone. However, that’s also what makes it challenging and thrilling and don’t we all long for roles that allow that?

Your favourite scene in the series?
I don’t know how much I can tell you without giving away too much of the plot! There is a scene late on in the series where Goldie decides to confront her husband at his place of work and that was great fun to do. I also got to wear the most fabulous clothes and jewellery as Goldie loves her bling so in many scenes I am dripping with diamonds; fake ones, of course, but they felt pretty real to me.

What has personally been the best acting experience in your career for you and why?
The Split will certainly go down as a highlight since I got to play a great role with immensely talented people around me. I also have very fond memories of Goodness Gracious Me, specifically the live tour we did around the country where our desi audiences came out in droves to support us. That felt very special because there was a real sense of pride and ownership from our audiences towards the show and it still seems to hold a very dear place in people’s memories.

How do you unwind?
I play netball twice a week since I prefer that to going to a gym and pounding on a treadmill. I go to the theatre a lot; we are lucky enough to have what I personally consider the best theatre in the world in London. Holiday-wise, in Britain, it’s probably Dorset and otherwise, the Amalfi Coast. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m in an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Three words that describe you best?
Brown, bold and proud.

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