From Coronation Street to JB Priestley, Kate Anthony talks to Sarah Freeman about her life on stage and screen.
As Kate Anthony knows only too well, a gap year can be a dangerous thing.
Growing up in Alwoodley in Leeds during the 1960s and 70s she was, she says, a shy child and while like other girls in her class she took dance lessons, she never had any intentions of performing professionally.
Slightly bookish, she studied hard for her A-levels and both Anthony and her parents assumed that she would probably go onto do an English degree. Then came the gap year.
“I just needed some time away from books and for some reason I decide I was going to do an A-level in drama at Park Lane College. I have no idea where the impetus for that came from, but it changed everything. While I was there I was lucky enough to meet the playwright Vanessa Rosenthal and it was she who really encouraged me to audition to drama school. It was something which wasn’t even on my radar, but she sowed the seed and the more we talked the more it began to grow. It was Vanessa who suggested trying Webber Douglas Academy because it was more down to earth and less upper class than Rada and off I went.
“I know mum and dad could quite believe the sudden change of direction and I am sure they were worried but the forgave me, they forgave Vanessa and things turned out alright.”
More than alright. Now in her early 50s, Anthony is one of those faces who is instantly recognisable because of the sheer amount of work under her belt. From Angela Phillips in As Time Goes By to ‘Aunty’ Pam Hobsworth in Coronation Street, she has worked more or less continuously and learnt early on that unless there is a very good reason to turn down a role you should always say yes. It was that philosophy which recently saw her appear in the phenomenon which is Game of Thrones. Her time on screen as a Braavosi woman in the current season might have been short, but it left a lasting impression.
“Now that was absolutely bonkers,” laughs Anthony. “My agent phoned up and I had no idea what Game of Thrones was really, but he told me to go along anyway. I have never seen so much secrecy surrounding a production. Before they would even see me I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and that was just for the audition. Everything was on a need-to-know basis, but it was a lot of fun.”
Things have been a little less covert on her latest job – Northern Broadsides’ new touring production of JB Priestley’s When We Are Married. Directed by the company’s artistic director Barrie Rutter, Anthony plays the bossy and domineering Clara Soppitt who along with two other wives discovers the marriage ceremony they went through 25 years earlier is not legally binding. The production opened in York last month and also stars fellow Corrie actors Sue Delaney and Steve Huison.
“I think I may have been in the Rovers at the same time as Steve once, but we never shared any scenes together. I loved being in Coronation Street. I was only supposed to be in for six months, but it ended up being far longer. I had a young family back in London so it wasn’t easy juggling the job and home, but somehow we made it work.
“I know some actors find it difficult if they are playing a baddie in one of the big soaps because it can attract all sorts of unwanted attention, but you have to go into these things with your eyes open and it also brings a lot of benefits in terms of raising your profile.
“People can be a bit sniffy about soaps, but it’s bloody hard work. You’re filming five episodes a week, you have a limited amount of time to learn your lines and you are acutely aware that if you mess up you are costing the production time and money that it can’t afford. I always regarded being on Coronation Street as a real privilege, there are not many other shows where you get writing which is as brilliant as that.”
While Anthony may be most recognisable from her TV roles, it’s the stage which has occupied much of her career. It’s also where she feels happiest, although even with the best part of 30 years’ experience it’s best to avoid complacency.
“We had all sat down and had a chat midway through rehearsals for When We Are Married and all of us seemed to think it was going well. However, the funny thing about comedy is that you never really know whether it works until there’s an audience in front of you. And that can be a double edge sword. You can convince yourself that the timing for a particular line is perfect and then you get there and there’s nothing. Absolute silence. A few minutes later they will all be laughing out loud at a line you thought had no comedy at all.”
While it’s Anthony’s first time in the Priestley classic, it’s not the first time she has worked with Northern Broadsides. A few years ago she appeared alongside Rutter in Rutherford and Sons, England, 1912, Githa Sowerby’s unflinching portrayal of an industrial Edwardian family on the brink of collapse.
“That play was directed by Jonathan Miller, but I’ve always been a great admirer of Barrie and so it’s been great to finally be directed by him. He is a master of the English language, he understands every nuance and the rehearsals were something of a revelation. Of course we’d all read our lines before we met up, but then suddenly you’d spend a morning with Barrie and you’d see every scene differently. There were times when I’d be struggling with the flow of a particular scene and he would say something simple like, ‘Just ignore the comma’. Right then and there the scales would fall from the eyes and I’d think, ‘Ah, so what’s what that particular line means’.”
The rest of the tour takes in Leeds, Scarborough, Cheltenham and Liverpool before a run at Broadsides’ home in Halifax. The curtain will finally come down at the at the beginning of December which means Anthony will be able to head home for Christmas.
“After that, ‘Who knows?’ I try not to plan too far ahead. My daughter will sit her GCSEs next summer, so I really want to be at home as much as I can for the next few months. However, if there is one thing that I’ve learnt is never try to predict the future in this business as chances are you’ll get it wrong.”
When We Are Married, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, October 18 to 22, 0113 213 7700, wyp.org.uk; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 25 to 29, 01723 370541, sjt.uk.com; Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, November 29 to December 10. 01422 255266, deanclough.com