One day I was round at my mother’s house, she was washing the dishes and I was drying up. I was in my thirties at the time, and I think I’d had a minor argument with my husband and I’d gone round to Mum’s to have a bit of a moan about him. She then started to talk about a man she used to know. It didn’t really register what she was saying until I suddenly saw her crying. She was telling me about an affair she’d had before I was born.
She told me about a time when she and my dad weren’t getting on shortly after they married and it was around this time that she started the affair. I asked if she was alright and she looked me straight in the eye and said: “I really loved him Kay”. To hear my Mum say that she really loved a man was unheard of. I’d never heard her mention a man and love in the same breath. I was absolutely bewildered.
I asked her what happened to him and she said that he had been murdered in a fairground brawl which in itself is amazing – that sort of thing just didn’t happen back in 1950s Leeds– people didn’t just get murdered. And also I’d never thought of my mum as a sexual person – you just don’t think of your Mum in that way. Cut to ten years later when my younger brother was getting married. My mum was bereft by this. She was so close to him. I asked her what the matter was, and she actually said: “I wish I could just crawl somewhere and die”.
I somehow linked that moment with the affair that happened all those years ago and that’s how the idea for the play A Passionate Woman came about. So when Jude Kelly at the West Yorkshire Playhouse asked me if I wanted to write a play for them, I immediately said yes, and told her it was going to be called A Passionate Woman.
How has the play developed since you first wrote it in 1992?
Several things happened have happened since I wrote the play. It had a year-long run in the West End where it was very successful and has since been performed all over the world. Then I worked on the screenplay/mini series for the BBC which was televised last year and has since been made into a feature film. I weaved certain bits and pieces into the screenplay which weren’t in the original stage play – I had to let my imagination fly again.
There were certain things I found out about the characters that I loved, so I subsequently added a few more elements to the stage play as a result of the screenplay. I think it makes it a richer experience for the audience if they haven’t seen the TV version and, if they have seen the television version, it’s a recognition thing and they’ll love it even more. So, the play is being changed and refined all the time and playing Betty allows to me part of the process which I find wonderful.
You act in the play yourself. What has been your on-stage career?
I started off doing amateur dramatics many years ago. I then went on to study drama at Bretton College when I was in my late twenties and I did lots of plays there. I learnt about things like stage presence. When I left Bretton, I formed a theatre company called Yorkshire Theatre Company and we toured round Yorkshire with plays that I’d written, and performed them along with some other graduates.
The good thing about that was I would get immediate feedback from the audience who would tell me there and then what they thought. I played a lot of different roles at this time – Joan in a play called Paul, Lorraine in a play called Climbing Out, Helen in A Question of No and Joyce in Mother of Mine. I then performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Three Girls in Blue, then I played Sadie in a play which I wrote called Queen – and the next one was Betty...which I’m playing now!
We know you principally as a playwright for television. How did this part of your career evolve?
Quite simply, after I’d trained at Bretton and formed the theatre company, my husband then said to me that he wanted to go back to university, so I had to make a living and pay the mortgage – which was fair enough, as he’d supported me financially up until then. I got in touch with someone who had given me their business card and that person subsequently became my agent.
She got me a part in The Practice but, more importantly, I got sight of a TV script and I thought: “Gosh, is it as easy as this?” and I discovered it was a completely liberating experience to be a TV writer as with a script. You could go where you wanted and do what you wanted. I wrote a number of things for TV. I started off writing for the children’s series Dramarama and then I wrote Children’s Ward with Paul Abbot. After that I wrote several episodes of Coronation Street and Brookside. Another children’s series Just Us followed on from that, then Band of Gold. One thing came after another.
What are your next projects?
My next television project is called The Syndicate – that’s a five-part drama series for the BBC that will hopefully be on air next spring. In terms of my next stage project, I have a few things in the pipeline, none of which I can unfortunately elaborate on at this stage!
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