Angel Cake - interviews
Writer Keith Temple
Writer Keith Temple, whose previous credits include Casualty and Heartbeat, explains how the idea for Angel Cake came about.
"The idea for Angel Cake wasn't some great revelation but instead the result of a fascination with stories which kept appearing in the news about weeping statues and strangely shaped buns," he says.
"Each time such a story turned up I found myself both amused and intrigued; why were they always religious images - Jesus or Mary usually - why not Homer Simpson or Margaret Thatcher?
"I wanted to explore the phenomenon, particularly the miracle aspect. In this modern, cynical age, how would people in a small community react if something like this were to happen?
"Then it did. I had been discussing the subject the day before and so was surprised in a spooky sort of way when I opened a newspaper one Sunday morning - there it was: a Danish pastry which looked like Mother Teresa - the so-called 'Nun Bun'! It really did look like her.
"After the initial hilarity it focussed my thinking; perhaps this was a sign that I should sit down and put something on paper.
"Choosing the characters and backdrop was easy," Keith adds. "I'm from Newcastle so it seemed sensible to give it a North Eastern flavour."
Sarah Lancashire plays Elaine
What did you think when you read the script for Angel Cake?
"I thought it was a very appealing piece, with an original idea - the notion of baking a cake and it coming out with the image of the Virgin Mary.
"You do read those stories of people having a piece of toast or something and they think they can see Jesus on it, but nobody's really explored it."
What made you want to play Elaine?
"It was really because it is a well-written, sweet piece with an original ear to it. And it is the sort of piece that works on a number of levels, which appeals to me.
"There's the very funny strand going through it with the cake and Elaine's mum, Millie, and all the little miracles that seem to be happening, but then at the same time, you've got this rather serious storyline going on between Elaine and Ed, and what's happening in their marriage.
"So it works on a number of levels and it's great to work on a piece like that."
How do you see Elaine?
"I see Elaine as other people see her. She's in service, isn't she, to her family? She's chief cook and bottle washer, and that's what she's always been and that's what she knows. She's an undemanding woman. She has an ordinariness about her, which is rather nice.
"She has no agenda and I find that quite attractive to play. There's no side to her. She is what she is, and that's great to do.
"With her baking, she's got this wonderful talent, this little stroke of genius, but she's real and that's appealing. She feels real to me."
What happens between Elaine and her husband, Ed?
"Ed has essentially not recovered from an incident at work in which his best friend died. He's carrying the guilt and he's rather damaged by the whole experience. Ed's not prepared to talk about it and Elaine has probably learnt very early on that he's not a talker.
"We meet Ed and Elaine at a time when their relationship is having difficulties because of this incident but I have in my head that prior to it happening there was a very good relationship there.
"They just need to work it through, and eventually they do; it's hinted that they work this through.
"That again is something I like about the piece. That's a very real situation. Nobody is sitting around a table talking it through in a therapeutic fashion. They've stopped talking to each other, and that's what happens to a lot of people. So there's this element of reality running through the piece, which I like and I think gives it weight."
Do miracles really happen in Angel Cake?
"I'd like to think little miracles do happen in Angel Cake. I think it's a lovely notion which I hope the audience will buy into; a little sprinkle of happiness, if you like, on the situation.
"Ultimately it's down to the individual to decide, just as it is in the piece itself.
"Jax, Millie, Stuart, they all buy into this idea about the cake but Elaine is never really that sure about it; the jury's still out for her and she reserves judgement."
Can you bake?
"I can bake but I don't do a lot of baking, mainly because the side effect is not very good for you! But I can bake. I come from a line of women who can bake so I think I've probably just inherited a bit of family knowledge. I've never baked a cake with the Virgin Mary on it, though!
"I do confess that when I looked at how they were making rock cakes in the opening scenes, I did query the method.
Suddenly this other hat came on and I thought, 'No, no, you don't make rock cakes like that. That's not the right consistency for rock cakes'. I said to the director on set, 'You'll have letters. People will know that's not the right consistency for rock cakes!'"
Vicky Hall plays Jax
Vicky Hall has appeared in some of the most successful new dramas of recent years, including Teachers, Bodies and Shameless, as well as a host of enduringly popular titles, including Coronation Street, Casualty and The Bill.
What did you think when you first saw the script for Angel cake?
"I immediately wanted to play Jax. The first scene I read was when she's with Judith who has really long nails, and she says, 'Oh, I love your nails. What's your secret? How do you wipe your a**e with nails like that?', and I thought that's a great line.
"That says it all about her. I like the fact that she's very upfront. That wouldn't have been an insult to her. It was a genuine question. I really love that – those characters that don't filter before they speak to you."
How would you describe Jax?
"I think she sees herself as a normal product of her environment. I don't think she's particularly well-travelled. She thinks the world starts and ends in Newcastle. That's her world and that's big enough for her.
"I don't think she's madly ambitious. She's got what she wanted. She's got a man who loves her. She's got a house. The only thing she feels is missing is kids.
I think she's as happy as she can be with her lot.
"I think certainly at the beginning of the piece she's a bit dissatisfied, you know. But then she realises how lucky she is to have Robbo, her husband. Towards the end, she realises that she might have hang-ups but actually he wouldn't change a thing about her. That gives her real strength and she thinks, 'You know what, I'm happy with what I've got'."
Do miracles really happen in Angel Cake?
"I like thinking that it's not about miracles. One of Elaine's lines is, 'It's not cookery, it's chemistry'. It's about talking to each other and sorting things out.
"For example, it's not really a miracle, Jax's experience that her husband can love her just the way she is. If she'd listened to that in the first place, if she'd communicated with him, she would've known that already.
"I think that's a huge point the script makes. People should talk more, rather than hiding things and trying to struggle through on your own. Most people in the story don't. They keep things bottled up and it's when they do start communicating that the miracles happen."
Rita Tushingham plays Millie
Rita Tushingham has been a regular of the small and big screen for more than 40 years, with recent appearances including Marple and New Tricks. She is renowned for her role in the cult movie The Knack… and How To Get It.
What did you think when you first read the script for Angel Cake?
"I liked the whole story. I think it works really well. All the characters take a journey, which I like. And I liked Millie. She has her bad side, her attention-seeking side, but she's got so much spirit. She gets stuck in and takes control of her life, and that's what I like about her."
How would you describe Millie?
"Millie is Elaine's mother. She's a widow and she's lonely. She's arthritic and she suffers terribly, but probably not as terribly as she would have Elaine believe. She puts a lot of pressure on Elaine, emotionally and practically, and relies on her daughter now her husband has gone.
"She believes in the cake entirely. Suddenly her aches and pains have disappeared and she's nimble again. She finds a new confidence. She no longer feels she has to hide away or use a stick for attention.
"Her journey is that she realises that just because she's a certain age, and her partner has died, life doesn't stop. She learns to forge ahead. There's a great energy about her and there's a suggestion at the end of the piece that there's a new start for Millie."
Do miracles really happen in Angel Cake?
"I believe that we all see and feel things differently. We see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear and we need a belief in something.
"Millie believes that she saw the Virgin Mary on the cake; other people don't see it, but she believes it. And that belief gives her incredible strength for all sorts of things."
And were there any specific challenges?
"There's a physical element to the comedy of Millie's character that I didn't want to overdo. I wanted to play it down, because there's also pathos about her, a reality that I didn't want to lose.
"If you play comedy for real, if you can believe it, then there is a very good chance your audience will believe it. I said to the director that I hoped we get the balance right because I'd hate for her to look ridiculous."