By Patrick Hamilton
Starring Leah Bracknell and Peter Amory from Emmerdale and Bruce Montague, famous for his role in Butterflies.
Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe
21-23 November 2005
Wed mat: 2.30pm
Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage
20-25 February 2006
Thurs & Sat Mats: 2.30pm
After 16 years as schizophrenic lesbian vet Zoe Tate, Leah Bracknell is taking to the stage for the first time since leaving the top ITV soap Emmerdale.
As Bella Mannigham in Patrick Hamilton's psychological thriller Gaslight, she is joined by another former Emmerdale favourite, Peter Amory who played the character everybody loved to hate, Zoe's brother Chris Tate. But this time, they are portraying a very different relationship!
"Yes, now he's my husband" laughed Leah.
After 16 years as siblings, it must be a little weird playing a married couple, but as Leah points out, she couldn't wish for a better colleague.
"It's really lovely because Peter is such a good friend" she said.
"I was very sad when he decided to leave Emmerdale, in fact it wasn't long after that I decided to take a break. It was really unlikely, inconceivable in fact, that we would work together again, so we both jumped at this chance.
"It's a very different medium and they are entirely different characters" she continued. "We haven't worked together for two years but it's great because we've got such a good knowledge of each other and how we work, from what amounts to nearly a 20
year working relationship.
"Also, he has had a similar life" she added. "When he left Emmerdale he went straight back into theatre and worked for the same person - Ian Dickens productions - so he understands exactly what it's like leaving a long job in soap and understands the nerves and apprehension you have leaving TV and going back on the stage.
"The audience love it though - you get two for the price of one!"
In Gaslight, Leah and Peter play Mr and Mrs Manningham who live in the smog of Victorian London. Mr Manningham is suave, and authoritative while his wife Bella is nervous, often terrified and feels that everyone is against her. The questions are - is
she insanely paranoid, losing her mind, haunted by ghosts or are Manningham’s accusations against her justified?
Leah explained what her character was like.
"The wife suspects she is going mad because strange things keep happening in the house" she said. "She is almost dillusional. Then, during the course of the evening a stranger calls and reveals secrets that changes the course of their lives forever.
"It's a Victorian psychological thriller - I think that's the best way of describing it" she added, and thrillers are always popular with audiences.
"I didn't realise how much audiences loved this kind of thing but it's terribly popular" she explained.
"I think it's also the Victorian setting as period pieces are really popular. We even recreate the sound, in fact the only thing about the period that we don't manage to recreate are the smells - mercifully!
But they [the audiences] seem to love the combination of Victorian and thriller, you can almost feel that they are on the edge of their seats."
If it was in anyway strange for Leah and Peter to portray such a different relationship after so long, then it may also be odd for audiences seeing two such familiar faces in a different place and time. But Leah explained that the characters are so far apart that these were the ideal roles for both of them after playing one character for so long.
"They are immediately very different" she said. "We look very different and sound very different so you forget Chris and Zoe immediately.
"It's perfect" she continued. "I think it's harder to shake off characters on TV so that was another reason why I wanted to do theatre. I think this was the best thing I could do."
Leah played Zoe Tate for nearly two decades but she wasn't always schizophrenic during those 16 years - for that matter she wasn't always a lesbian, even though her kissing of interior designer Emma Nightingale pre-dated Anna Friel's Brookside snog by a good year!
Nevertheless, EVERYTHING happened to Zoe. Apart from her mental health and her sexuality, she killed her half brother after being kidnapped by him, suffered attempted rape by a farmer, was accused of assault, discovered her father Frank's body and
even had a baby! Then there was the whole Kim Tate murder mystery suspense thing, not to mention her affair with brother Chris's fiancee Charity Dingle. So is there anything that hasn't happened to Zoe?
"I can't think of anything that didn't!" laughed Leah. "And if they [the writers] could have thought of anything else then I would have taken my hat off to them!
"But that was one of the pleasures of playing Zoe" she continued. "She was very unpredictable which I liked. She wasn't a victim but she had lots of problems to deal with and at the same time she could be very Tate-like, ruthless and sometimes violent. You never knew what was going to happen next, which I liked."
These major story lines always provided Leah with a challenge but was there one that she found the most challenging? Leah is very clear about her greatest achievement as Zoe.
"The schizophrenia storyline" she said immediately. "Because it dealt with a particular area of mental health and we did it over a relatively long period of time - about ten months - so there was a lot of research involved and the story was ongoing and changing. We had to get the nuts and bolts right and also it wasn't just about how it affected her [Zoe] but also the effect on her family.
"Mental health is not a glamorous issue to depict" she continued. "I was pleased but nervous when I was told it was coming because I didn't want to just be "mad Zoe". We were very particular to make sure that it was truthful in essence, truthful to the character and truthful to people suffering from the condition. We had a lot of good feedback as well which was really good."
And she agrees that playing such roles in hugely popular soaps carries a weight of responsibility with it.
"Soap is entertainment but sometimes you pick up a subject that you have to deal with in a delicate way and look at it from a different angle" she explained. "Definitely that [the schizophrenia] is what I'm most proud of."
Of course, Gaslight is a world away from the Dales but Leah revealed that she is really enjoying this new challenge.
"I started rehearsals as soon as I finished Emmerdale so I didn't have much of a breather!" she said.
"But I'm absolutely loving it. It was a bit of a shock at first because it was a real departure for me but I really am loving it - much more than I suspected I would. And I still get excited every night about doing it. It's great.
"But there are an awful lot of words" she added. "It's easy for the audience to follow but it's me who has to concentrate more than them because I'm not used to concentrating for two hours at a time!"
One thing that helps her relax is her passion for yoga, which she now also teaches in her spare time.
"I started five or six years ago and I immediately loved it and knew straight away that I'd like to teach it" she explained.
"I've been studying it for years and I teach when I can. In fact, I'll be teaching it again this Friday back in Yorkshire.
"I like the side of yoga which focuses on how to relax and beat stress and finding your inner strength - there's so much to yoga and that for me is the key" she added.
"And I still do a yoga workout before performances sometimes and I'm working a programme for some of the cast who say they get nervous. It's our New Year's resolution to all get together and do it. We MUST - because I've been carrying about four or five yoga mats around in the car for weeks now!"
Meanwhile, fans of Leah in Emmerdale will be pleased to know that she is only on a sabbatical from the programme, so they are likely to see her as Zoe once more in the future.
"Technically speaking the door is open which I like" revealed Leah. "It has been such a big part of my life I wouldn't like to say goodbye to it."