Star of miners’ strike play has no love for Maggie

Kate Anthony playing Maggie in Queen Coal at the Crucible Studio
Kate Anthony playing Maggie in Queen Coal at the Crucible Studio
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Actress Kate Anthony’s character in the play Queen Coal shares a first name with Mrs Thatcher but, like her character Maggie, she despises everything the Tory Prime Minister stood for,

The play begins on the day that Mrs Thatcher died and is set in a former pit village in South Yorkshire.

A celebratory bonfire brings back Justine to the home she left near the end of the miners’ strike for an uneasy reunion with her ex-husband Ian and his sister Maggie. All three had been active in the strike.

Kate said: “I play Maggie, Ian’s sister, and I was his ex-wife Justine’s best friend until she left. Maggie’s had to pick up the pieces of Ian’s family after she went.

“She’s had to help bring up the children and look after her brother, keeping the house going. In later years she’s gone on to get a degree.”

“She is an amazing woman, I love her! I’m a bit protective of her at the moment.”

Another Maggie, Thatcher, is key to the play. Words from her speeches are heard and she is on stage as an effigy to be burned on the bonfire.

Kate said: “Maggie Thatcher is a massive character in the play. I can remember the day she died very clearly. I was working with Northern Broadsides with Barrie Rutter. We were obviously very pleased that day.

“I was driving over to Halifax and I had the kids and my mum in the car with me. They were going shopping and I was off to rehearsals.

“The kids said, ‘The phone’s going crazy’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll be your dad asking where his shoes are’.

“I had lots of texts and messages from friends and then the phone rang and it was my friend Adrian from South Elmsall and he said, ‘Ey up, she’s dead’.”

Kate said that she had to explain to her kids about Thatcher and why she was delighted someone was dead.

Like her character, Kate was appalled by the way that the Iron Lady was portrayed as soft and caring in the media after her death.

She said: “They made a lot of how she died alone in the Ritz. My heart bleeds for her on that one. Not on a trolley in some cash-strapped hospital or at home where nobody knows who she is except her dog.”

Born in Leeds, she has childhood memories of the South Yorkshire coalfields.

“My grandfather was a tailor and I used to travel with him to Thurnscoe and Goldthorpe. He used to make suits for the miners and they paid him on a monthly basis. He went to measure them up or deliver the suits.

“I’ve got some nice memories of Goldthorpe and someone told me, ‘Don’t go back. You would be so upset to see it now. It was a beautiful little town that’s just gone to nothing after the strike. It’s heartbreaking to see’.”

When she read the play, Kate said she knew she had to do it, although she was glad that she didn’t know that Bryony Lavery, who has won lots of theatre awards, had written it as she would have been too daunted to read for director Robert Shaw Cameron.

“I think the play’s amazing. Bryony Lavery is a phenomenal writer. To work on a new piece with her is just fantastic and to have her sitting in on rehearsals has been just amazing. She could tell you what she meant by a line, or even to say I don’t really know what I meant there!” said Kate.

Although the play is about real events, the characters are only loosely based on aspects of real people, said Kate.

“They’ve not imposed anything at all on us. Rob said that there was a woman called Aggie (presumably well-known activist Aggie Curry) who they’d seen on one of the videos. It’s not her but she is the core of what Maggie was.

“I don’t want to see the video as the character’s evolved so much. It’s quite nice to have my own idea of what Maggie is. If I see somebody I can’t help but pick up that and I don’t want to do that.”

Kate, who was last seen in Sheffield in a Hull Truck production of Perfect Pitch, has been a regular on TV shows Doctors, EastEnders and Casualty and comedy As Time Goes By. She also played Aunty Pam Hobsworth in Coronation Street.

Kate said she loved her time on the Street but joked that Pam’s currently on a cruise round the fjords and doesn’t show any sign of returning!

“It was the right time for me to go but never say never. It’s such a nice place to work that there’s no reason not to go back.”

Queen Coal runs at the Crucible Studio until November 22. Box office: at the Crucible, call 0114 249 6000 or go online to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk