Entertainment & Arts

Kay Mellor steps into mother's shoes

Kay Mellor in A Passionate Woman
Image caption Kay Mellor has written TV series including Band of Gold, Playing the Field and Fat Friends

Writer and actress Kay Mellor made her name with her 1992 play A Passionate Woman, based on the story of her own mother's doomed affair with a Polish fairground worker.

Now she says it is "very moving" to be playing her mum in a revival of the show.

Most people dread turning into their parents as they get older.

Kay Mellor, on the other hand, is turning into her mother five nights a week.

"I'm embracing it," she says with a wry laugh.

Thirty years ago, over the washing up, Mellor's mother Dinah told her daughter about an intense affair she had had with a man called Craze.

That revelation inspired A Passionate Woman, which was first staged at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds before running in the West End for a year.

"It's extraordinary because at times it's very moving for me - more so than playing another role," she says of performing in the lead role in the latest production.

"This brings my mother quite close to me. That's lovely in some respects, but in other respects I really miss her," says Mellor of Dinah, who died three years ago.

"But I'm sure she'd be delighted if she was watching me from somewhere playing her, and highly amused.

"Both my daughters said: 'Mum it's really freaky, when you're on the stage you turn into nana.'"

Although Mellor wrote the original play, acting has given her a different insight into her mother's story.

"You wear a different head," she says. "As a writer, you're looking at something analytically. You're looking at the show and the structure of it and all that.

"But being in it, you're involved on an emotional level right throughout it. You're engaging on every level with your thoughts and feelings. It's an emotional journey, and it can be at times quite profound, what happens to you.

"I get caught out sometimes. I can be completely reduced to tears in a minute and then think, get a grip girl, you've got to act this.

"At times it can be quite…" There is a long pause. "Unusual. It is unusual. I've played other roles. I've played big roles and you're always slightly outside yourself, watching yourself. But with this sometimes I can get lost within it."

In the play, the central character is called Betty and she tells her on-stage son Mark about her affair. That conversation represents the moment that Dinah divulged her secret to Kay.

Image caption Kay Mellor was made an OBE last year

"When I'm playing it I can feel how awkward it must have been to tell me, and why she didn't tell me for many, many, many years," says Mellor.

When Dinah died, Mellor decided to pay tribute and dusted off a screenplay version she had prepared.

The result was a two-part BBC One drama, starring Billie Piper and Sue Johnston as her mother at different stages of her life. That aired last year.

And it sparked interest from around 40 theatres who wanted to revive the stage version, says Mellor.

In the end, she teamed up with Gareth Tudor-Price, then artistic director of the Hull Truck Theatre.

The pair had worked together before - and besides, as an ex-boyfriend of Mellor's daughter Gaynor Faye, Tudor-Price had an unrivalled insight into the family he was putting on stage.

"I can't remember who suggested it, whether it was him or me, but it just evolved that I would be the right person to play my mother," says Mellor.

"I am the right age now to play my mother at the time that she told me about Craze, so I said yes."

The play starts with Betty finding an old ballgown in her loft, leading decades-old emotions to come pouring out.

Mellor first performed the role in Hull last year before moving to Ipswich last month. The play will open at the Oldham Coliseum on Wednesday.

Twenty years after the original production became a hit, why does Mellor think the story has held its power over audiences?

"I think it's got universal appeal," she says. "Because the themes are so big - marriage, love, death, mother and child relationships - they transcend age, time, culture."

A Passionate Woman runs at the Oldham Coliseum from 18 May to 4 June.

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