VICTORIA Wood has appeared in her own work, likewise Alan Bennett in Talking Heads, so why not his fellow Leeds playwright Kay Mellor?
Why not indeed! The casting director for the BBC adaptation earlier this year suggested Kay should play Betty Derbyshire, the passionate woman of the title based on her own mother, but she preferred to direct it.
Seed planted in her mind, she is now doing her Betty in Hull, her first stage role in 12 years, under the direction of Hull Truck artistic director Gareth Tudor Price, an old friend from college days, who also happened to know her mum.
Mellor is best known for her television work, and she is joined in Tudor Price’s cast by Andrew Dunn, the York actor from dinnerladies, playing solipsistic husband Donald in his return to Hull Truck after ten years; Hollyoaks star Stuart Manning in his stage debut as Craze, the ghost of Betty’s Polish former fling from the Fifties; and ex-Emmerdale soap actor Anthony Lewis as Betty’s son Mark.
We know this play works, from its West Yorkshire Playhouse premiere in 1992, to the West End star turns and national tours, myriad foreign productions and a York Theatre Royal repertory run in 2002.
This time it’s personal, emotional too, but Betty is still the universal housewife who knew her place in her pre-war house in suburban Leeds, until today, one Saturday morning in 1992, the day her beloved son will marry unsuitable Jo.
It is a time for sudden, unforeseen defiance and reflection on an unfulfilled, compliant life and a fear of feeling redundant once Mark cuts the umbilical, leaving her only with an ungrateful husband.
Where better to reflect than in the attic, surrounded by the clutter of memories, Johnny Mathis’s double-cream voice on an old record player, and the ghostly Craze to woo her once more with patter as slick as his hair.
Only Betty can see and hear him, the font of humour in Blithe Spirit mode once she finally allows Mark to join her. A series of stand-offs ensues as Foxton’s set revolves to reveal she has taken to the roof of her semi-detached house, contemplating detachment from everyone.
Mellor has gone on to write more substantial dramas, but A Passionate Woman has a winning combination of intrigue, romance and danger; truthful domestic detail; a female lead that pulls the heartstrings and touches the humour button like Shirley Valentine; and a set design as memorable as the roof-top setpieces.
Mellor’s characterisation plays on her mother’s quirks and carries a sense of pathos and a dormant rebellious streak, her beige moth re-discovering colours as bright as her old dancehall dress. Dunn, meanwhile, is the blunt, blunderbuss Yorkshireman we all know; Manning’s Craze is the matinee idol that won’t last.
Tudor Price’s highly commercial yet well-rooted production has you laughing, crying… and praying Lewis’s endearing Mark won’t fall from the roof.
Box office: 01482 323638.