Judy moves from TV's Brittas Empire to miners' strike in new Sheffield theatre drama

Brittas Empire star Judy Flynn has gone from comedy to drama in her latest role, about a tough South Yorkshire woman fighting for her community.

Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 5:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 5:35 pm
Judy Flynn plays a woman whose life is changed by the miners' strike in new Crucible Studio play Chicken Soup

Judy, who played secretary Julie in the famed 1990s sitcom set in a badly-run leisure centre, is one of the stars of a new play about a group of women who set up a soup kitchen in a Rotherham area pit village during the miners' strike. It looks at what happens to them and their friendships over the years.

The drama has been written by Sheffield writer and actor Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles. Kieran also wrote and starred in Operation Crucible, about the bombing of the Marples Hotel during the Sheffield Blitz in 1940.

Judy Flynn, left, and Remmie Milner in rehearsals for Chicken Soup at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield

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Judy said: "It's set over three time periods and starts off in 1984, five days after Orgreave, when my character Josephine and her friend Christine set up this soup kitchen with another friend, Helen.

"It's about friendship with a backdrop of this terrible situation and what that does to you. For my character, that liberates her because she becomes more political.

"For Christine, it affects her in a different way and causes tensions between them, which we see when we join them again in 2002. They're now doing a party for the Queen's jubilee. Things have turned bad between them.

"Then we move to 2016, on the day of the Brexit vote." By this time the women are running a food bank, helping their community to survive more tough times.

Judy Flynn, left, and Remmie Milner in rehearsals for Chicken Soup at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield

Judy said that the play has a clear political theme but it's also about "strong women. They don't like to show their emotions."

She added: "It's a brilliant play. I'm just absolutely loving doing it. I've not a done a part as big as this for a long, long time. It's so well written and the director is amazing. It's all women, apart from the writers.

"There's five cracking parts for women and I'm the oldest in the cast. Parts get less for women as you get older, and to have such a meaty part is just fantastic.

"When I first read the script, I thought 'I know what this is about'. As we've worked on it, there are more layers and more about how the characters have travelled."

As part of that journey, Judy's character ages from 27 to 59 and joked: "I just hope the audience go with that!"

Judy has very fond memories of The Brittas Empire, which ran for seven years, and she joined in series two. She said: "We had a cast reunion just before Christmas. the leisure centre that we did all the exterior and swimming pool scenes in has been refurbished.

"They invited all the cast and the writers down and so we all went. We went out for a meal and it was just so brilliant to see everyone."

She added: "They were really happy times. I'm godmum to Pippa Haywood's eldest daughter. We did so many things in each others' lives."

Judy remembered a disastrous trip to start filming that could have been in the show itself. "I was driving there wearing contact lenses and got completely lost ands thought I'd go and ask in this Blockbusters video shop.

"Instead of walking through the door, I walked straight through the window! As I smashed into it, my contact lens shot out. It was at night and windy and there were crisp packets on the pavement as i was searching around for it.

"I was so short-sighted I could hardly see my hand in front of my face. We had to weeks of filming to do and you had to order new lenses months in advance. I only had one contact lens left and was wondering what am I going to do?

"Someone came out of the shop and said, 'Your lens is stuck to the window'. I had one black eye and they had to cover it up with make-up."

She remembered that Pippa also had a disaster when one scene left her covered in elephant dung. She staggered back into the leisure centre and hurriedly stripped off to have a shower, only realising too late that she was using the shower near the edge of the pool and everyone swimming could see her naked…

Judy said she's been having a lovely time in Sheffield, being spoilt rotten by old friends Sue and Colin Martin, who are putting her up in the city. They're old friends of her partner, actor Graham Turner.

Chicken Soup runs at the Crucible Studio theatre, Sheffield from February 9 to March 3. For tickets, call 0114 249 6000 or go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk