Much-loved Jonathan Harvey coming-of-age play Beautiful Thing wends its way back into the West End to the Arts Theatre this April for a limited run. We caught up with theatre and tv stalwart Suranne Jones who will head the cast to get the lowdown on the upcoming revival.
Suranne, you're known for playing ballsy women - you can't get a lot more bite for your buck than Sandra. What drew you to the role?
Firstly , I got a very lovely phone call from Jonathan Harvey, and he told me that this year was the 20th year anniversary of Beautiful Thing. I had seen the play at the Royal Exchange and I loved it, and obviously love Jonathan’s writing. Sandra is a different role for me; she has had it hard, she’s a mother, but she is fighting for herself and her son.
The play opened in 1993 but found a wider audience after the 1996 film version. Linda Henry's iconic portrayal of Sandra in the film pretty much launched her career. Were you a fan of the film and how would you say yours and Linda's approaches to the character differ?
Yes I am a fan of the film, I thought it was a brilliant strong cast, and Linda Henry was amazing in the role. I haven’t started rehearsals yet, so I don’t know how different our approaches will be! Also, I never watch another performance and then compare what I would do with that role. I feel that in every part you have to find something of yourself in the character. I will have to see what I can use and utilise as Sandra ….
Do you think society's attitudes towards the gay and lesbian community has changed much since the play's debut? Is the story still as relevant and moving today?
Attitudes have changed for sure, now there is Mardi Gras, the Stonewall Charities, the Terence Higgins Trust, and the Gay and Lesbian Foundation. There is a lot of support for gay men and women in the community, but the flip side of that is that the church and the government’s attitude recently to gay marriage is still an ongoing battle. And that’s a battle for young people who are coming out now - where you live and what your culture is - there are divides which need to be addressed.
The story is very relevant given the issue of gay marriage last year, and we are coming into 2013 with that very much at the forefront. It will be interesting to see the people at the stage door who will have seen original version in the 80s. At that time, it was a fundamental piece of text or theatre that really helped people, and lot of people that I talk to say that. Hopefully this time round it will help a younger audience coming out.
Tell us about the rest of the cast for this production.
The casting was announced last Friday as Zaraah Abrahams playing Leah; Oliver Farnworth as Tony and introducing Jake Davies as Jamie. Danny-Boy Hatchard will be making his professional debut as Ste.
I worked with Zaraah previously on Scott & Bailey, so it will be good to see her again. I haven’t met the other cast yet, but I am very looking forward to working with them. We have a workshop planned for late February when we will all get together for the first time.
You sprung to the public's consciousness with your well-loved portrayal of Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, but have also made your mark with well-received roles in shows such as Vincent, Scott & Bailey and the hilarious A Touch Of Cloth since. Would it be fair to say you have actively tried to 'break free' from the soap star tag and that has advised your subsequent role choices?
I think the media tend to list everyone who has been in a soap as either Ex Corrie, or Ex EastEnders etc. I have been working since I was 10 and I happened to have played Karen for 4 years, it was an amazing time and I got to play such a great character. I left Coronation Street to do other roles, and that was always my plan. I haven’t consciously tried to break free from a label, I just want to work and I am very grateful for the work, and I want to continue to work as an actress in various roles.
You've also racked up an impressive set of theatre credits in the last few years in classics such as A Few Good Men opposite Rob Lowe and John Barrowman at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Blithe Spirit at the Manchester Royal Exchange and Top Girls in Chichester and later the Trafalgar Studios. Is live theatre a whole different learning curve?
Once you have been doing a run of TV programmes you miss the rehearsal process which allows you to understand the character, and interact with the other characters and find their journeys. On TV you have one moment to capture it on it film, so you have to get it right and it has to be immediate. In the theatre you can grow and change your performance. After a year and a half on TV, I am really looking forward to getting back to the stage.
You won rave reviews for your portrayal of a convicted murderer in ITV's three-parter Unforgiven in 2009. Is it important to you to balance grittier roles such as that with lighter roles such as this?
I read scripts and if the script is good and the character is right for me and if I think I can bring something to what I read on the page then I will take on the role. When I read the scripts for A Touch of Cloth I thought they were really funny and would work. The same with Scott & Bailey when I am interviewing murderers in a scene. It’s really all about the scripts, and not limiting myself to be typecast in one role.
The play is set for a small UK tour after its 8 week West End run at the Arts Theatre. Have you noticed a difference between London and UK audiences in the productions you have been in?
We are going to take a show that starts in the West End to three brilliant theatres and cities. Leeds, Liverpool and Brighton are great in their own right, so I think it’s more about the fit of the place to the play. We are selling well in all those places, so there is a hunger for that kind of play in those cities. Also a lot of the touring shows in the provinces are either big commercial projects or musicals, whereas we are taking a straight play out there. It’s a great piece of theatre that has diversity and accessibility for the audience.
What's next for you after the show winds up?
I will finish filming on Scott & Bailey 3 at the end of March, and that will transmit Spring/Summer on ITV1 peak time. I begin rehearsals straightaway for Beautiful Thing which will open on 13 April in the West End, and then tour from 28 May to 15 June. A Touch of Cloth Series 2 and 3 will be on sometime later this year on Sky 1, and Stage Door Johnnies will go out on Sky Arts on 18 April. After all that I think I will just want a massive holiday!
Beautiful Thing will play at the Arts Theatre from 13th April to 25th May
Buy Beautiful Thing tickets at the Arts Theatre here