Noreen Kershaw has had a truly varied career. As an actress she has starred in Shirley Valentine, originating the role in Liverpool, as well as starring in the soaps; Albion Market and Brookside. She also featured in the cult TV show Life On Mars. Turning her hand to directing, Noreen has called the shots on projects as diverse as the highly acclaimed Channel 4 show, Shameless through to Women On The Verge Of HRT on stage. Her newest project is Fireflies; a brand new production which arrives at the Lowry, following the recasting of Suranne Jones' lead role.



Fireflies
, described as ‘savagely humorous'. Can you tell us more about the play and what audiences can expect?
It’s classed as a ‘love story waiting to happen’ and it’s quite black. There are only two actors and they play multiple roles but it’s the story of two characters who have all sorts of things happening in their lives but who meet by chance, like each other and share stories and help each other tell their stories to the audience. Naomi Radcliffe and Brian McCardie are very out there actors and this play needs brave actors to grab onto the opportunity. It’s a tough call for them as they play multiple roles but it should be good fun.

How does the working process differ when working on a new piece of theatre rather than a pre-established play?
It is more challenging than an established piece because you just don’t know what the reaction is going to be. The writer, Kevin Fegan, is sitting in on rehearsals and I’ve had good long talks with him whilst looking over my storyboard drawings which have been necessary for this project because of what’s happening on screen as well as on stage. I have to know every moment what’s happening where and I have to make sure I explore everything and don’t miss any possibilities. I’ve been through this with Kevin and he likes what I am doing with it. It’s also a new challenge for the television company we’re working with mixing screen with stage.

What was it that attracted you to this particular project?
I’ve never done that mixture of stage and screen together and having seen theatre done in this way I thought it would be a challenge.  It meant, though, that I had to be really organised with the shooting schedule and limited time. It also meant I could bring together skills from different areas I work in; stage and screen. The Lowry is a brilliant venue so, of course, that was also a factor and the intimate Quays is a good sized theatre for Fireflies.

Your career has been rich and varied, but one of your big breaks was originating the role of Shirley Valentine at the Liverpool Everyman. That play has gone on to be hugely popular. Are you surprised at its enduring popularity?
It was the premiere of Shirley Valentine and it was like learning the telephone directory! Scary! I’m not surprised though.  Willy Russell is a very good writer especially for women and I think people really connected with Shirley. It’s very funny.

You continue to act but not so much on stage these days concentrating more so on directing. Why is that?
I do still act a bit but I got stage fright and I’m a bit of a coward, which is why I don’t really act on stage anymore.  I still wanted to be around actors and I enjoy directing and seeing the whole picture.

The vast majority of your work has been centred around the North of England. Has that been a conscious decision throughout your career?
Yes, I suppose so. I did go to London and I did a lot of theatre there but I think there’s a lot of good work in the North which is often unfairly compared to London theatre, but I don’t take that on board. I want to make my work as good as it possibly can be and that’s the bottom line and if it’s good in Manchester that’s good enough for me. That’s another contributing factor to wanting to direct Fireflies. It’s a world premiere and it’s in the north.

Are there any venues out there that you’ve not worked at but would like to or any plays you would particularly like to direct?
Not really. Every venue has its own special qualities but if they pay me I’ll go! I do like to do new works although you just don’t know what’s coming next. I staged the Liverpool Nativity in 2007 working with another director who organised the cameras and that came out of the blue.  But I love it when jobs like that just crop up unexpectedly.

Will there be a life for Fireflies beyond the premiere at the Lowry?
I hope so. I want to make is as good as possible to make sure it has a life after this production.



Noreen Kershaw was speaking to Malcolm Wallace.

Fireflies
premieres at the Lowry from 16 - 31 October.