York-born Laura Soper has returned to her roots to play Susan in Swallows and Amazons at the Theatre Royal, followed by Madame Adeline in Hetty Feather. These are her first professional appearances in her own home city.
What’s your first Yorkshire memory? Being taken to Thorp Perrow Arboretum (that’s up in Bedale), and for some reason, noticing the dappled light from the trees overhead. My family have always been great walkers and love the countryside. I’ll have a guess that I would have been about three or four years old.
What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? Now that rather depends on what I am wanting. If it is peace and quiet, then it will be somewhere nicely remote, in the Dales or in the North York Moors National Park, and if it’s for a little culture or night life, then it’ll be York, which has the lot.
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What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? Kilnsey’s Agricultural Show, over in Wharfedale. It’s an annual autumn event and it attracts so many people and it’s easy to see why, because it has a whole range of things, from sheep and cattle through to dry-stone walling competitions. But I love any of Yorkshire’s shows and events, the tents where you get the amazing flowers and vegetables, the dog obedience classes, craft exhibitions and the absolutely infinite variety of it all.
Do you have a favourite walk or view? Up on the tops, above the White Horse, where (it is said) that on a clear day, you can see the Lake District. I love being up there, it’s so high that you can look down on the birds flying below you.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? If you had asked me this a short while back I’d have put on a very blank face. But I’ve been rehearsing with – and am now appearing with – a cast full of dedicated cricket lovers, and I have, in fact, learned a little about the game, and I quite enjoy it. The World Cup final between England and New Zealand was nail-biting stuff. So, may I ask for the company of Joe Root? He’ll be talking to a complete dunce, a novice, but I might well learn a lot more from him, and he seems like a very agreeable person.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? The sublime icon that is Alan Bennett, because he captures the spirit of Yorkshire – that sort of amiable fellowship, combined with a very dry wit, stiletto-like perception and a permanently raised eyebrow.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? Bransdale, near Kirkbymoorside. It has Bilsdale to the west and Farndale to the east, and there’s a river called Hodge Beck. There’s a single-track road, with a lot of gates that have to be opened and then shut carefully behind you. There are a few farmhouses, but other than that, it is so empty and peaceful. At the end of the road, there’s a perfect little church, dedicated to St Nicholas.
If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? The glorious beach at Sandsend. It would be a glorious summer’s day and I would be surrounded by family and friends and colleagues, all having a wonderful time at the very best picnic ever.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? Difficult to sum this all up, but in part it is the fact that so many people come here and choose to stay in the county. Combine that with a sense of contentment, the landscape, the diversity of cultures and a pride that is passed on. Then add the dialects, our customs and traditions, and our way of life. It all becomes a wonderful conglomerate whole.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? It has to be the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge. It’s what a proper traditional pub should be.
Do you have a favourite food shop? We live in Alne, just outside York, and we have a wonderful butcher’s, Hartley’s. What they don’t know about a good cut of meat could be written on the back of the smallest stamp ever.
How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it? There’s far more cultural diversity, that’s for sure, and we seem to have grabbed hold of our own unique personality and taken a great many positive leaps forward. I think that we have tried to show the rest of the country what we are capable of, and that we have, for the most part, spectacularly succeeded.
If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? I’m fine with the weather, I don’t mind a bit of mist or rain. But the train services from east to west are appalling, and it can take as long to get from York to Manchester as it can from York to London, which is simply ridiculous.
Has Yorkshire influenced your work? Absolutely. It has made me who and what I am, and my parents’ involvement with the York Theatre Royal shaped me from my earliest years.
Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.? Something from Henry Moore, but not his major sculptures. It’ll be his sketches of sheep, which you can find in the collection of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and which are also published in book form. They sound real dull, don’t they? But in fact he gives each of the beasts a sort of character and the detail is quite astounding.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? Where else but York? They’d better prepare themselves, however, because it is going to be a long day, starting with a walk along the walls of the city, then an exploration of the Minster, and a backstage tour of the Theatre Royal, with a few drinks afterwards in a couple of the excellent pubs, and a good dinner. There will be no difficulty at all in getting over to sleep that night.
Swallows and Amazons, York Theatre Royal, until August 24, and Hetty Feather from August 30 to September 1. Box office on 01904 623568.