‘You can hear a pin drop when it’s on...’

Maureen Lipman in Daytona
Maureen Lipman in Daytona
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Actress Maureen Lipman is very excited to bring new play Daytona to a Sheffield audience after its run in the West End of London was a big hit.

The well-loved actress, who is also a visiting professor at the University of Sheffield, said: “It’s had great reviews and packed houses. I had three friends who couldn’t get in until I was able to arrange some tickets for them.

“People absolutely love it. You can hear a pin drop when it’s on. It’s a really good old-fashioned thriller and it’s unpredictable.”

She added: “I’m having a ball. I feel that everything I’ve ever done has been leading to this part. It’s so powerful, you get on a roller coaster and it takes you.

“By the end of the evening the audience seem to be quite shocked, really.”

The Ladies of Letters and Loose Women star, who is still fondly remembered as Jewish granny Beattie in the 1970s BT adverts, appears in Daytona alongside This Is Spinal Tap star and The Simpsons voice artist Harry Shearer and John Bowe (The Hour, Cranford, Prime Suspect).

Maureen and Harry play a couple in their 70s who live in New York. Both are Holocaust survivors who have assimilated fully into American life. When the play opens they are busy practising for a ballroom dancing competition that evening.

Their quiet, domesticated life is blown apart when the husband’s brother suddenly reappears. His revelations leave them with a dilemma that threatens to change their world forever.

Maureen said: “The good people of Sheffield will be very happy. It’s a well-made play about revenge, love and loyalty and the idea that revenge is best served cold. It’s very, very well written by Oliver Cotton, the actor.

“It’s funny as well, with a sort of dry humour.

“I’m not really in the first act that much, which is mostly a revelation about the two brothers. When I come back in it starts to unravel like an old sweater.

“It becomes all about control and holding in emotions – it’s about big stuff.”

Without giving too much of the plot away, the Hull-born actress, writer and broadcaster says that the play explores the idea of redemption. “Has the brother done what he says he’s done? Was it worth it? Is it ever worth bringing anyone to justice 50 years after the event?

“Alongside that are questions about those who are unhappy in the game of love. What kind of love is it that this couple have? Should you settle or is passion all? Does it burn itself out?

“The brother brings back terrible tensions within the family make-up. He’s back because he’s on the run. That is all intertwined around love, revenge and sibling jealousy. Oliver’s woven them all through the piece. It will be taking you by surprise.”

Maureen says she is loving working with just two male actors and taking the show on tour. “I’ve done three plays in two years. It’s quite a lot of hard work but it’s great to be working when you get over 60.”

Although she is known as a comedy actress, she also enjoys serious acting. “I’m just interested in why human beings behave the way they do psychologically, whether that becomes funny or serious. It’s part of the human condition.”

Maureen agrees that can see some similarities between Daytona and the work of her late husband, Jack Rosenthal, who was also made a visiting professor at the university, where he studied English literature.

His best-loved plays include Bar Mitzvah Boy, Spend, Spend, Spend and The Knowledge and he was a regular writer for Coronation Street in his early career.

She said: “Jack was very concerned in his work with the so-called failures of life being given some dignity. If every writer has a theme, then that was his.

“He very much got across his message through comedy. I think that’s very true of Oliver’s play. He’s got a wonderful ear for dialogue, like Jack. When you start saying it, it’s just joyful.

“Particularly on TV, you say the sort of thing nobody would ever say to serve the purpose of drama. You have to have a conflict every 12 minutes.

“This is really beautifully written. I’m very proud that I found the play and somebody was brave enough to put it on.”

Daytona is at the Lyceum Theatre from October 1 to 5. Box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 249 6000.