New stage in actor's life as Sorcha swaps the Street for Steinbeck

When you come from a great acting dynasty like the Cusacks you would think it inevitable that you'd go into the family business.

But not so for Sorcha Cusack.

"I wanted to get away from acting as much as I could," says the 60-year-old. "You don't really think about it when you are growing up as you don't know anything else and it really didn't seem that amazing. It's not until you get older and you look back and realise that you've met James Cagney, Richard Harris and Howard Keale that maybe it was different to other people's childhoods.

"When I left school I decided I wanted to be a teacher and went to university and got a job. My parents were supportive; my mum knew what a difficult life it can be, especially for a woman who wants to have children. It is a very difficult juggling act."

However, with parents like Cyril and Maureen Cusack it was unlikely that she could resist the pull of the theatre for long.

"I kept getting asked to be in plays. I wasn't earning much money at the time and so I took the work. Then one day I was appearing in a play where I had to strip off to my underwear. One of the parents saw the performance and it got back to school and the headmaster said it was time for me to choose."

She chose acting and has never regretted that decision.

"I loved teaching, but I think I would have been burnt out by the age of 40. I really admire teachers. To be an inspiration to children you have to put so much into the job," she says.

And it seems to have been the right decision. With accolades in stage, screen and television her career has always been strong. With her sisters Sinad and Niamh and half-sister Catherine they make a formidable acting family.

They have only ever appeared together once, with their father in Three Sisters. "It was an experience never to be repeated, " says Sorcha. "Family is family and work is work. When you are working you become a different person, but family always wants you to behave in a different way. It was very fraught, but very fruitful."

She says the sisters all get on extremely well and have their own code for talking together. "It is great for us, but must be very boring for other people."

Despite theatre being her first love, many will know Sorcha from the small screen.

She was staff nurse Kate Wilson in Casualty from 1994 to 1997 and more recently Liam Connor's mother in Coronation Street, but she decided to quit this summer.

"It was nice to be asked and the people are really lovely, but that whole way of working without rehearsals and at such a pace just wasn't for me and the part just wasn't going anywhere."

So she decided to return to the theatre and is touring to much acclaim in The Grapes of Wrath alongside Christopher Timothy, currently at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

It is a demanding play, but one that Sorcha believes still has resonance today. The play, adapted from John Steinbeck's landmark novel tells the tale of upheaval

in the 1930s Great Depression, as people look for a better life.

It centres on the Joad family who are forced to leave Oklahoma after their farm is repossessed.

"People are losing their homes and being thrown out on the streets today. It is sad to think that nothing seems to have really changed."

Sorcha has successfully pulled off the thing her mother worried about, combining an acting career with having a family. She has two children with the actor Nigel Cooke.

"We decided early on that we would try not to work at the same time.

"If one of us wanted to take a part then the other would stay at home in London and look after the children. We did overlap, which was disastrous and never repeated."

The couple, who have been together nearly 30 years, only recently decided to tie the knot, with their children Beth and Liam as witnesses.

"When we got together nearly 30 years ago, all our friends who had been together and got married then seemed to split up, we didn't want to do that.

"Nigel is a strong agnostic, bordering on atheist and I didn't want to go through something that he wasn't going to believe in."

However the realities of modern life convinced the couple that getting married was the sensible thing to do.

"In the end it was a very meaningful and touching ceremony."

And it seems that she may have added another generation to the acting dynasty. Her daughter Beth recently appeared at Manchester Royal Exchange.

"She's rather good," says Sorcha.

The Grapes of Wrath runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse from Tuesday, November 3, until Saturday, November 14. Box office 0113 213 7700 or www.wyp.org.uk.