A VERY NORTH­ERN HU­MOUR

Yorkshire Post - - FEATURES & COMMENT -

MAX­INE PEAKE and Paddy Con­si­dine are hav­ing a row. Quite sud­denly she gets up, ex­its the room, marches down a seem­ingly end­less hall­way and slams out of the door to drive off in silent fury. It’s a dra­matic mo­ment that has Adrian Shergold, di­rec­tor of rhap­so­dis­ing.

“Ing­mar Bergman! Mis­ery! De­pres­sion! An­tide­pres­sants,” he quips as the scene is re­set and Peake, play­ing the tit­u­lar fe­male co­me­dian of the ti­tle, re­turns to the retro-themed house that is a per­fect time cap­sule of the 1970s.

Ev­ery­one is do­ing for the love of it. Peake stars as a wannabe stand-up comic on the North­ern work­ing men’s club cir­cuit in a role writ­ten by ex-Em­merdale star Tony Pitts. He’s also in it along with his pal Con­si­dine, who plays Peake’s mid­dle­class book­shop-own­ing lover.

Then there are the cameos: John Bishop as an Elvis im­per­son­ator with a dog, Vic Reeves as a ven­tril­o­quist, Richard Haw­ley and Corinne Bai­leyRae as a singing duo called . It is, says pro­ducer Kevin Proctor, un­like any­thing that’s been done be­fore.

is a scary film be­cause it’s a truth­ful film. I’m not em­bar­rassed to say that I’ve cried watch­ing it. I’ve cried be­cause it’s so beau­ti­ful.”

He likens the mood and at­mos­phere to ev­ery­thing from Sea­mus Heaney’s po­etry to the Os­car­win­ning drama with Sally Field as the down­trod­den fac­tory worker who forms a union. And he says it serves as an an­ti­dote to the wave of big-bud­get Hol­ly­wood prod­ucts that is in­fest­ing cin­e­mas.

“We haven’t seen any­thing like this in such a long time, and we are sat­u­rated with fa­mil­iar­ity to the point where we are ac­tu­ally con­demn­ing our­selves into this vor­tex of say­ing, ‘There’s noth­ing on at the cin­ema’. Do you know what? There is this huge flux of per­fect sto­ries.”

Pitts, says Proctor, is “a poet”. His di­a­logue is short, sharp, stac­cato and rich in de­tail. Even his stage di­rec­tions – “The cus­tomers in the queue looked like damp cig­a­rettes. They had grey, translu­cent faces” – set Proctor’s pulse rac­ing.

“Tony’s words reach out and punch you in the face,” he ex­plains with pas­sion. “I’ve never read any writ­ing like it be­fore. Tony has a very dis­tinct voice, and we have lost them – the Alan Bleas­dales and the Alan Clarkes. But we are def­i­nitely not so­cial re­al­ism, kitchen-sink or ‘it’s grim up North’ at all. We have height­ened the re­al­ity of it.”

In a brief break from act­ing, Peake and Con­si­dine flop down onto a retro sofa set against dis­tinc­tively curved art deco win­dows. The whole house, named Whitelodge and re­sem­bling a set from ,is stuck proudly in the past. And this duo of ac­tors, one in bouf­fant wig and mut­ton­chops, the other in a gar­ish trouser suit dec­o­rated with flow­ers, are deep into the vibe.

For Con­si­dine, mak­ing was a quid pro quo ar­range­ment af­ter Pitts ap­peared in his film

“He’s got a voice, Tony. I saw a lot of him in it when I read it: his per­son­al­ity, in­se­cu­ri­ties and ex­pe­ri­ences.”

For Peake, the sit­u­a­tion was en­tirely dif­fer­ent: the piece was writ­ten specif­i­cally for her.

“I re­mem­ber when Tony wrote it. He was liv­ing up Heb­den Bridge and I went to see him. We took the dogs for a walk and we sort of sat in the car and he said, ‘I’ve writ­ten it’. I was sat in his pas­sen­ger seat, read­ing it. He sat and watched me. And I just re­mem­ber be­ing in floods of tears and say­ing, ‘It’s beau­ti­ful’ but then get­ting this feel­ing, ‘Good God, how will this get made?’”

Peake used to go to work­ing men’s clubs in the 80s with her fa­ther. Later, when she was a ris­ing ac­tress liv­ing in Lon­don, she’d re­turn home to Green­field on the out­skirts of Manch­ester and call into the lo­cal club with him. It is, she says, a rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing land­scape.

“I have a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with clubs,” she con­fides. “They were fun but maybe I was look­ing at them as a bit of a nov­elty as well. There was a bit of Lon­don (to it): ‘Ooh, look at me go­ing to a work­ing men’s club with me Dad on a Satur­day night!’ I think we over­ro­man­ti­cise them some­times... That world can be quite bru­tal.”

Peake started her ca­reer want­ing to be a co­me­dian but says she “didn’t have the guts” and segued into act­ing. Se­ri­ous roles such as play­ing Myra Hind­ley in di­verted her from de­liv­er­ing gags. brings her full cir­cle.

“I did one se­ri­ous job and then I couldn’t get back into com­edy af­ter that. I couldn’t (do stand-up). I’ve got mates who do it and I go and watch them but it fills me with fear. Just watch­ing them makes me feel very anx­ious.”

One of her in­spi­ra­tions was Marti Caine, the win­ner from Sh­effield who en­joyed 20 years at the top of Bri­tish light en­ter­tain­ment be­fore can­cer claimed her in 1995, aged just 51. Peake en­cour­aged Pitts to read Caine’s raw mem­oir

The re­sult­ing script, how­ever, is de­fi­antly not a biographical por­trait, even though its lo­ca­tions – Leeds, Sh­effield, Har­ro­gate, Brad­ford, Dews­bury – rep­re­sent the trail Caine would have trod.

“Max­ine had orig­i­nally been in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing on Marti Caine,” re­calls Pitts. “I didn’t want to do that at all. The idea of that time and my mem­o­ries of that cul­ture... that in­ter­ested me. I said I wouldn’t do a biopic but I’d write some­thing about a fe­male co­me­dian. And that’s what I did.

is a fe­male co­me­dian from the North but it’s not based on any­one. It’s about things that were early planted in me, and men and women.

“I lived at Crookes at the top end of Sh­effield. It was Lowry-es­que. I re­mem­ber the men go­ing on buses to the steel­works in the morn­ings and then on Satur­day nights there would be that pa­rade. They loved to get dressed up.

“I re­mem­ber me mum and dad. Doors would open and cou­ples would come out dressed up in suits to go out for the night. They had grey, grasp­ing lives and monotonous hard work. That’s very deep in me (and) it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary see­ing that recre­ated. We al­ways cel­e­brate cul­tures when they die and that was sort of the death of that cul­ture.” The roots of what were to be­come

– the cen­tral char­ac­ter is never given a name and is only re­ferred to by that so­bri­quet – can be traced back to when Peake, Pitts and Con­si­dine all worked to­gether on the David Peace tele­vi­sion tril­ogy

Pitts wrote his story in long­hand in one in­tense two-hour pe­riod. Then he set it aside.

He de­scribes it as a half mix of child­hood mem­o­ries, what that cul­ture felt like grow­ing up in Sh­effield in the 60s and 70s and the raw-boned, knock­about na­ture of life. The quasi­au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal as­pect is, he ad­mits, un­avoid­able.

20. (15) is re­leased on April

Max­ine Peake has mixed feel­ings about work­ing men’s clubs. She plays a fe­male comic in Funny Cow, which is out on Fri­day.

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