ACTRESS Lesley Sharp, best known for fighting crime alongside Suranne Jones in five series of TV detective show Scott & Bailey, cannot wait to get stuck into her latest play, The End Of History, at the Royal Court.
‘Jack Thorne is one of the finest writers we have in this country,’ enthuses Lesley of the scribe whose other credits include hit stage show Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. ‘He writes stupendously well for women. All his characters are three-dimensional and have a proper psychology invested in them. All the actors in this play have plum roles.’
Lesley, 59, plays Sal, opposite David Morrissey as her husband David. They are former left-wing activists who have raised three children and the play follows the family’s ups and downs in three different time periods — 1997, 2007 and 2017.
‘It’s about parents who are engaged in the world, with the imperative that you take responsibility for the world you live in,’ explains Lesley. ‘You see a family in operation with a couple who have that as part and parcel of the way they parent — and the effect it has on their kids. It’s a play about family, love and grief in all its different forms.’
The play starts in 1997. Back then Lesley was filming Playing The Field, Kay Mellor’s TV drama about a women’s football team. ‘A couple of people from the Arsenal ladies team helped us with training but women’s football was under the radar,’ says Lesley. ‘Now, with the World Cup, it’s absolutely out there as a sports event. Twenty years down the line things have changed.’
In 2007 she had just finished starring in Afterlife, an ITV drama where she played a psychic sleuth, and in 2017, when the play ends, she portrayed real-life detective Maggie Oliver in Three Girls, a hard-hitting drama about the Rochdale abuse scandal.
Over the course of her career she had inadvertently avoided doing theatre for ten years — returning in God Of Hell at the Donmar in 2005. ‘It wasn’t a deliberate thing,’ she says. ‘I was offered TV work. It was just the way it went. When I went back I was shocked by how frightening I found it.
‘Being on stage is like muscle memory. It’s like if you don’t go to the gym for 12 months then suddenly start again, you think ‘‘that doesn’t feel right”. It’s the equivalent of that. Now I go to the theatre and watch actors on stage, I find it amazing how people take it for granted they can do that stuff. It takes a lot to do it. It’s a big deal to get yourself together and get to the point where you all put on a show. I really love it. I love the community of the theatre. I love being part of the gang and having each other’s backs.’
Lesley is particularly happy to be back at the Royal Court. She starred in some acclaimed productions there early in her career, including Jim Cartwright’s The Road, set in a deprived working-class area of Lancashire during the Thatcher era, and last year returned for surreal drama The Woods. ‘I’ve had some of my happiest times on stage at the Royal Court,’ she says. ‘I grew up in the North and I’d read about the Royal Court and the National Theatre and they almost seemed like mythical places. I sometimes can’t believe I work in there. I have to pinch myself and think ‘‘Bloody hell, how lucky am I?’’’
Lesley plans to finish writing her debut novel this year (‘I’m not telling you what it’s about, it’s a secret,’ she laughs) before starring as the lead in a gender-bending adaptation of Sophocles’ Trojan War drama Philoctetes, at the National next year. ‘There are so many amazing classical roles that women can’t play because they’re male roles — so it’s great when you have an opportunity to have a go at something fabulous that usually only blokes would do. We’re living in an era where we’re trying different stuff out. We’re readier to find different ways of telling stories, which I think is great.’
■ The End Of History is at the Royal Court theatre until August 10, royalcourttheatre.com