Wombwell-born actor Finetime Fontayne is thrilled at the prospect of being back on the Crucible Theatre stage in a play that charts the ups and downs of the Sheffield steel industry through the eyes of a city family.
He plays the title role in Jack Steele and Family, a collaboration between the Hallam University and Sheffield Theatres that has brought in playwright John Godber, writer of hits such as Bouncers, Happy Jack and Up ‘n’ Under. John Godber is a visiting professor at the university.
Finetime, who is still remembered for his role as Hilda Ogden’s strikebreaker lodger in Coronation Street, plays an ex-steelworker who was made redundant in the 1980s. His sons have gone on to be a lecturer at the Hallam and a dodgy businessman who has moved down south but has secret business deals in his home city. That character is played by Sheffield-born actor Ian Reddington, famous for playing the role of Tricky Dicky in EastEnders.
When his family arrange a party for Jack’s birthday at the former steelworks where he lost his job, the memories coming flooding back at the place where “every rivet of the place is a memory”. What also comes through is Jack’s resilience, says Finetime.
Finetime said: “John Godber is looking at how there used to be 50,000 steelworkers, and perhaps 300,000 at one point, and now there are 50,000 students in Sheffield and how the town has changed in that way.
“It’s this wonderful kaleidoscope of ideas and memories.”
He says that the rhythm of the script is fascinating: “Sometimes the characters say phrases I never would say. At first I thought that’s not quite right. Then I thought ‘trust it, he’s doing something with it. He’s turning it into poetry’.”
The story is also full of humour, adds Finetime: “It’s as funny as f***! When John’s at his best his head for language and how ordinary people speak is fantastic and the kind of stuff they do.
“At one point Jack says, ‘This is where I knocked seven bells out of Jack Buckley. His wife had to have her leg off’.”
“It’s a comedy but I think it will make the people of Sheffield proud.”
He says his character is “a cantankerous old sod” who’s the head of a working-class family who are all very intelligent. “They see things, comment and take the mickey relentlessly out of each other. They play games with each other.
“Jack is mercurial and can be fun and can be a bit exasperating.”
He added: “I know my mother will cry when I walk out on stage. I look just like my dad. I put the costume on and thought, ‘My, oh my. There he is.”
Finetime, whose real name is Ian Crossley, has lots of memories of the steel industry because his dad, who was a miner, had a pit accident. He ended up running the Mail Coach pub in West Street, Sheffield.
He said: “I watched the steel mills going down. It was like the industry was eating itself as the works were taken down for scrap metal.”
Finetime starred in The Stirrings in Sheffield, the famous play about 19th-century little mesters craftsmen who hit back at factories that began to mass produce the cutlery and threatened their livelihoods.
He said: “They were threatened by the coming of electricity, gas and the big steelworks and not being able to make a living.
“This play deals with a man who has worked in the industry all his life and who lives through when MacGregor tore the industry to pieces. He’s seen the devastation and the rebirth.”
Finetime is very excited about the play. He said: “It’s very difficult when I’m inside something to know how good it’s going to be but I think it’s going to be fantastic. It’ll not stop me enjoying it!”
The world premiere of Jack Steele and Family is at the Crucible Theatre from tomorrow, Friday July 12, to Saturday 20. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
Finetime has great memories of living at the Mail Coach pub when his parents ran it after his dad’s underground accident in the 1960s.
He said: “I’m there at art school in Barnsley as a 15 to 16-year-old and my bedroom in the pub is right next to the room where the Sheffield Folk Club, where Tony Capstick performed.
“I worked with him later on All Creatures Great and Small and other jobs and he had performed in the room right next to my bedroom! I’d already been in very, very sad pop bands before that.
“I had pretensions to playing the guitar so I did like being around the folk club.”
He also remembers going to the Mojo and Penthouse clubs during the exciting 1960s Sheffield music scene.