DOUBLE ACT: Lotte Wakeham and Amelia Bullmore at Scarborough Stephen Joseph Theatre. Picture: Richard PonterDOUBLE ACT: Lotte Wakeham and Amelia Bullmore at Scarborough Stephen Joseph Theatre. Picture: Richard Ponter
DOUBLE ACT: Lotte Wakeham and Amelia Bullmore at Scarborough Stephen Joseph Theatre. Picture: Richard Ponter
The former Coronation Street actor Amelia Bullmore talks about her play showing in Scarborough. Nick Ahad reports.

If she weren’t so easy to like, Amelia Bullmore would be very easy to dislike.

Her accomplishments as an actor are varied and impressive. Her CV includes playing brilliant roles, from the Eastern European girlfriend of Alan Partridge, to a perfectly observed harassed working mother in BBC satire Twenty Twelve.

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She also appeared in Coronation Street, playing Steph Barnes over five years and was recently on screen as one of the key characters in the second series of Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley.

As though it weren’t enough to have secured such varied and interesting roles in the acting world, parallel to this Bullmore has a very successful career as a writer, having penned episodes of This Life, and Scott and Bailey. Sometimes it seems that there isn’t anything she can’t do.

“When I was a young girl, I loved to dress up and pretend to be other people,” she says. “But I also loved to imitate other people and to write stories as well. All that has changed is that I have had the great fortune to carry on doing both those things as my job. I can’t quite believe my luck.”

Bullmore is also a playwright of some repute – her first play The Middle, was nominated for the Dennis Potter award back in 2000 and What’s On Best Comedy nominated Mammals.

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Told you, sickening – were she not so likeable. The reason we’re speaking is that another play, Di and Vi and Rose, is about to be revived at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre as a part of another impressive summer season on the coast.

Bullmore wrote the play in 2013, when it was staged at the Hampstead Theatre, before transferring to the West End.

She came to Scarborough for the launch of the SJT summer season and ‘had a lovely train ride back to London with the director Lotte Wakeham when we talked about the play’, but apart from that has been hands off with this production.

The story of how the play came to exist might not surprise those who know Bullmore best from her slightly off-kilter performances on TV screens over the years.

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“I wrote the play because I saw a woman’s calves that were just like the calves of a friend I hadn’t seen for months. The lurch of longing to see her (prompted by the calves) was so strong that, later, I thought: I’d like to try and catch that in a play,” she says.

At first, I wonder if she’s joking. The woman who worked in her early career with Steve Coogan and Chris Morris can deadpan with the best of them, but it seems she’s telling the truth.

“I have terrible eyesight – really, really terrible. But for some reason I notice detail. I noticed this woman’s calves and they were exactly like my friend’s and the depth I felt of missing her, of love I felt for her, this real ardour, was something I just wanted to try capture.

“It’s that sort of love that only really exists in friendships that you have had when you get to a certain age and they have been there for such a long time.”

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At the time Bullmore was in New York in a play that had transferred from the West End. The four months the play demanded would be the longest she had been away since starting a family and had a calendar which had labelled precisely when the family would visit her and when she’d be able to return to see them. She puts the emotional pull of that down to the fact that a stranger’s calves sparked such emotion.

“I wanted to catch the feeling of that missing my friend, but I also wanted this to be a small story, something that just happened between three people.

“To see it in the round at Scarborough will be really quite something – I always think that when you watch a play in the round you can really see the actors working and that there’s nowhere for them to hide.”

Bullmore’s play, which stars the brilliant Polly Lister, Grace Cookey-Gam and Margaret Cabourn-Smith as the three title characters is just one of a number of shows making up another promising summer season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

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While most theatres go dark, closing down during the hot summer months to allow for maintenance work to be carried out, the Scarborough theatre enters its busiest period.

A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, the summer in Scarborough means an Alan Ayckbourn play - it wouldn’t be the same without him - and the theatre doesn’t disappoint for the summer of 2017.

Taking Steps is widely regarded as the master dramatist’s one true farce.

Telling the story of a tongue-tied solicitor and his quest to oversee the sale of a large and crumbling house, it is set over, and in every corner, of a three-storey house.

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Ayckbourn says: “Farce is the most difficult thing to write because it has to be a riot from beginning to end. Taking Steps requires the most delicate balance and the steadiest of hands to work.

“I think it’s one of the siller plays I’ve written; it’s nice to be silly occasionally.”

Artistic director Paul Robinson’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice continues to play at the theatre, but the other particularly intriguing arm of the season is a series of play readings, new plays by writers starting out in theatre.

These will be performed by members of the summer company at SJT. Why is this so intriguing? There will be those who remember it was where a young Tim Firth began his career.

Before he went on to write Calendar Girls.

All in all, another hot summer in Scarborough. Indoors at any rate.