Blake Morrison: 'It was weird to have Colin Firth playing me on screen'

Poet, novelist and playwright Blake Morrison reflects on the last 20 years working with Northern Broadsides and having Colin Firth play him on the big screen

Blake Morrison in rehearsals for For Love or Money
Blake Morrison in rehearsals for For Love or Money
© Nobby Clark

Bestselling novelist and poet Blake Morrison has been winning awards for his fiction, memoir and journalism for the last thirty years. His memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father? was made into a hit film starring Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson and, among many others, he has won the Dylan Thomas Award, the EM Forster Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. He has also been working with Yorkshire-based theatre company Northern Broadsides for 20 years, where he has ‘Yorkshire-fied’ many classics. His latest is an adaptation of Alain-Rene Lesage’s Turcaret, which will be artistic director Barrie Rutter’s final piece as head of the company. Here Morrison explains how the long relationship with the Northern Broadsides came about.

What was it like having Colin Firth play you on film?
As you can probably imagine, the resemblance between us is remarkable. It was pretty weird, but it was great, of course. There were 14 years between my book And When Did You Last See Your Father? and the film coming out. I never really believed it would happen until Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth and Juliet Stephenson agreed to be in it.

Barrie Rutter is stepping down as Northern Broadsides’ artistic director at the end of For Love or Money, will you miss him?
This may be our last tour and possibly our last collaboration, but I hope not. Barrie won’t retire – he will go on acting and directing. I’m not ready to feel poignant about it yet because there are too many worries about how the show is going to work. Maybe in the last week in York I will have time for poignancy.

Northern Broadsides has been going for 25 years, what is it about the company that has made it work for so long?
I think Barrie had a mission to take theatre to the people. To places where you wouldn’t normally expect to find theatre. In my home town of Skipton they played in the cattle market, and their base was originally a carpet factory. The company has a belief that there isn’t a distinction between high and low art, and they had faith in the northern vernacular. It’s the idea that Shakespearean heroes can speak – as they did in Shakespeare’s day – with regional accents. The dialect and idiom has a kind of energy that received pronunciation doesn’t have. It’s high energy dance and music too. You don’t find yourself nodding off.

You’ve mainly written poetry and novels, had you always thought you would write plays?
It was just one of those accidents and I had to learn on the job. Apart from some small projects elsewhere all my plays have been adaptations for Northern Broadsides. Barrie Rutter is very respectful of the writing, he makes sure the emphasis falls in the right place and he’s very determined every word will be heard.

What is For Love or Money about?
Not many people know the original, it’s an 18th century French play by Alain-Rene Lesage called Turcaret. It’s a savage comedy about the king’s tax collectors who are ripping people off. In ours, the tax collector is a bank manager and there’s a widow he is wooing. She’s also being wooed by a young chap, who she is in love with. So the bank manager gives her money and presents, which she then passes onto the young man – a doctor’s son. It’s a dark satire and is very well plotted.

Is it still set in France?
No, I had to get rid of the chevaliers and find some equivalent in 1920s Yorkshire. It wasn’t exactly The Great Gatsby at that time in Yorkshire, but there would have been a bit of money swimming around in the provinces.

For Love or Money runs at Viaduct Theatre Halifax until 23 September and then tours until 2 December.

Read our review of For Love or Money