Some programmes come along that radically change television’s viewing landscape and Band of Gold was one of them.
Thanks to Kay Mellor’s brutally honest writing for the very first time a group of sex workers surviving on the streets were seen as human beings battling to make ends meet, and stay alive after a murder. Now Mellor has turned Band of Gold into a stage production that she is directing, with Emmerdale’s Gaynor Faye in the cast, which gets its world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre.
“This theatrical version of Band of Gold is the first series of the TV show amalgamated into a theatre show,” says Gaynor. “Anyone who remembers it will remember the iconic characters – Carole, Rose, Anita, Tracy, Curly – and they’re all in it. It’s about life on the Lane in Bradford, which is an iconic place where prostitutes pick up their clients, and about discovering why they are there, looking into their lives, meeting the ladies and discovering what has put them there.
“It’s also a whodunit as there is a murder, it’s post Ripper, but it’s a really critical time where women are still vulnerable, and still getting attacked on the streets. It’s got everything - humour, it’s very gritty and sad.”
The TV series made household names of Geraldine James, Cathy Tyson, Barbara Dickson and created a star of Samantha Morton in her debut role. Mellor has recruited a strong cast including Corrie’s Shayne Ward, Eastender Laurie Brett, Mr Selfridge’s Sasha Parkinson, old hand Andrew Dunn who was in Dinnerladies and newcomer Emma Osman. Faye is playing Rose who is the de facto leader of the women.
“Rose was played by Geraldine James in the TV show, and she is kind of a battered person, not physically but mentally, and she is damaged goods really. She has created this very hard outer shell, which is incredibly hard to pierce. She is the cock of the Lane, runs the girls, takes money off the girls and no trick gets past her. Rose is very protective of who walks on this particular lane, so I think getting into her head is hard as she is very damaged. I feel like I’ve had a very privileged life, so it’s really great to dig deep, and get to know what makes her tick.”
Like the TV series, which ran for three seasons and made Mellor’s name as one of our best writers, the stage adaptation doesn’t pull its punches, but it also tries to see the women as people who have the same dreams and flaws as anyone else.
“Not only were they just humans they were the heroines which was the first time anyone had portrayed prostitutes as real women who had feelings,” notes Faye.” It wasn’t just about sex, it was about their life, but they were also heroines and you really cared for these women. That’s the beautiful thing about this script on the surface they are hard and brash, they do wear stilettos, they wear stockings, clothes that are very revealing, but that’s the tools they use to get the sale. Inside they are human, intelligent, fiercely loyal and protective of each other.”
Mellor’s stage version is in its original 1990s setting, but for Faye the tough social issues the TV series beamed into people’s living rooms are just as relevant to today’s audiences.
“Nothing has changed and in fact things have got worse at the moment,” asserts Faye. “There are many women out there selling their bodies to make ends meet, there are more foodbanks now, more people on the street and thousands of men and women struggling to feed their family.
“Someone said you are only two pay packets away from the street, and it is that never truer than now, so I think this is why it’s a great time to bring it back.”
As well as writing and direction Mellor is also Faye’s mum, but the pair have got used to working together over the years on different projects.
“I’ve worked with my mum so many times it’s just the norm. I’m in the writing team so when she writes something I look at the work, and give her notes back. We come up with ideas together so I’ve worked with her as a director and as an actress.
“I’m just another actor who loves to work with her and we’re very good at separating the parental figure to the director through years of working together. For a long time I haven’t been involved as an actress with her as I’ve been in Emmerdale for seven years, and doing other stuff like Calendar Girls. It’s great to be an actress being directed by her again.”
For Leeds born and bred Faye this is not just an exciting new challenge working with a top class cast but a homecoming gig at one of the country’s grandest theatres. Ironically it's also a long overdue return to the boards at her local theatre.
“I love Leeds and I’m really patriotic about my hometown. The last time I was onstage at Leeds Grand was a ballet dance I did when I was nine years old.
“I’ve watched Fat Friends here, and loads of other shows, but I’ve not been on stage there for years. The Grand has all the glamour, the red velvet seats and all the gold. Leeds audiences are wonderfully warm, they know Kay, they know me and they will really get behind this.”
Band of Gold is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Thursday 28th November to Saturday 14th December. To book www.leedsgrandtheatre.com or 0844 8482700.