Getting to Know Kat Rose-Martin: Actor, Writer, and Inaugural Recipient of the Kay Mellor Fellowship

Words: Helen Brady

In early 2020, the inaugural winner of the Kay Mellor Fellowship was announced. The fellowship is a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse, Kay Mellor and her company Rollem Productions, and it will support a playwright over 12 months, encouraging them to develop their writing. There will be opportunity for an original idea for stage worked into a full-length draft on set and an original idea for a television pitch will also be created. Kay Mellor, OBE is a successful writer, actor and director, perhaps best known for TV series’ Band of Gold, Fat Friends and Girlfriends

Kay Mellor, Kat Rose-Martin and James Brining. Image: Anthony Robling.

The first winner of the Fellowship was Bradford born Kat Rose-Martin. Kat has worked as an actor for Northern Broadsides, Shakespeare’s Globe and York Theatre Royal, as well as having written and directed large scale immersive experiences nationally. Kat explained, “I’ve always written in the voices of characters before I really knew that script writing was a job. I started as an actor, trained at drama school and after a few years working in theatres, I knew that I wanted to write plays that I could relate to. Plays that my friends would enjoy.”

With the arrival of a global pandemic right at the beginning of what should have been an incredibly immersive and creative 12 months ahead, Kat explained if she had since felt any pressure to produce work in such a turbulent time, and if she felt that work had to respond to the current affairs of the time. 

“For me, it always starts with character and story. And there’s certainly a lot of pressure to make work about COVID but there’s also a lot of people saying, ‘make what you want to make’. Personally, I feel some of the survival pots of funding at this time should be less prescriptive – if you want to write about pandemics then great, if that’s not for you, also great. I think there should be no pressure either way – a lot of people have a lot to deal with right now, and we should focus our energy on getting through this.

“Personally, some days I find it really easy, others I need to take a step back and let my brain catch up with what’s on going. The audience appetite will always be a mixed bag – in the first few weeks most popular shows were Contagion and Tiger King – complete opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s hard to predict what an audience wants so it’s important to stay true to what you want to say. I’ve learnt that the hard way.”

Despite the circumstances, Kat was lucky to be able to continue with the fellowship remotely. “It’s certainly a scary time at the moment. Especially as an emerging writer with theatres closed and TV production on hold. The Kay Mellor Fellowship has been such a blessing in that sense. We’ve continued to work remotely, and it’s been a well-needed safety blanket – I would’ve really struggled without it. What’s interesting is that I’ve not had to travel to London as much for meetings with theatres and production companies which has saved me lots of time, money and stress. I’m hoping when Lockdown is over, companies will still consider meeting people virtually.”

Although the north/south divide is improving, there are still significantly more opportunities within the television and theatre industries for those based in London. An enforced shift in how theatres and productions companies operate due to the COVID-19 crisis has proven that remote working can be done, and this would be a welcome shift in operations that stays in place beyond the pandemic. Kat shared, “Everyone assumes you live in London or want to live in London. I’m more than happy in Bradford but it’s tough when I have to get a 6am train to go do four meetings on the same day and back home on the 8pm train then back to work the next day. London gets so much more funding than the regions. But things are changing, people are looking to hear more diverse, relatable stories. I look forward to the day when diverse is the norm and everyone can feel that they’re represented on stage and screen.”

Kat went on to say that although she does not intentionally set out with a ‘Yorkshire’ agenda, being from Bradford is a very important part of who she is and the stories she wants to tell, “There’s so many different people and stories across Bradford and Yorkshire that sometimes I need to get more specific about which postcode or street or neighbourhood a piece is set in because they can be vastly different and affect the story.”

Location is in part what attracted Kat to the Fellowship, which is a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse and Rollem Productions. “Both are on my doorstep and make work that I love. I’ve been to Leeds Playhouse countless times and performed there twice with Northern Broadsides. The spaces are great and the audiences generous. It seems like a natural fit for the work I want to make.

“And which Yorkshire female writer doesn’t want to work with Kay Mellor? I’ve always watched her shows and there’s so much that I can learn about story and about using your authenticity to say something important and making a long-lasting career in an industry that’s often unpredictable. When I found out that the KMF was a joint TV and Theatre development opportunity, I knew it was exactly what I needed. I want to work as much as possible in both industries and explore how they’re similar and how they differ.”

Coincidently, Leeds Playhouse is also one of Kat’s favourite places to perform and enjoy watching pieces by others. “I love Shakespeare’s Globe, I love Leeds Playhouse, I love theatre in non-theatre spaces. For me it’s about the connection between audience and the actors. And so much of that depends on the play, the production, the audience. But when there’s genuine connection between the action and the people experiencing it – that’s what theatre’s all about for me.”

2020 is quickly becoming one of the most challenging years for so many people. The unique set of circumstances people find themselves in means that unique types of support have had to be offered to ensure the survival of some of the North West’s most popular sectors. With the creative industries being made up of predominantly freelance individuals, it is easy for some of them to slip though the net and not receive any support at all.

Kat explained, “There’s lots of support from really wonderful companies who are doing the best they can. Bradford Producing Hub, Leeds Playhouse, Freedom Studios, to name but a tiny few. The Arts Council have handed out funding to companies and individuals. But it’s also really hard, there’s a lot of gaps to fall through and be left struggling. And there’s no doubt that the creative industries need bail outs that other industries have received. Once we’re up and running again, the entertainment sector contributes massively to the economy, but it will take longer and a lot of adapting to get to that point. So, until that time, theatres and TV Production companies need support.”

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The perfect first opera: The return of Opera North’s La Bohème

La bohème is one of the most popular operas of all time, and it’s back at Leeds Grand Theatre this month. Opera North’s take on Puccini’s heart-wrenching opera was originally conceived by Phyllida Lloyd – who went on to direct Mamma Mia! and the Oscar-winning The Iron Lady. She transports the action to the smoky cafés and garrets of 1950s Paris where we witness the tragic love affair between two impoverished bohemians, seamstress Mimì and poet Rodolfo, who meet one freezing Christmas Eve.

NRTH LASS caught up with Lauren Fagan and Eleazar Rodriguez who play the ill-fated lovers on opening night (there are two casts alternating over the course of the run). They are also performing at the company’s first dementia-friendly performance on 24 October. Henry Neill, who sings the part of Rodolfo’s friend Schaunard, and revival director Michael Barker-Caven joined the conversation.

NL: Tell us more about La bohème. What's it about? 

L: It’s a story of beauty, love and, ultimately, tragedy. Life and death basically!

M: As you watch it, it’s like going from a big evening, feeling that life is nothing but a party, to discovering that the morning after can actually be a place of terrifying shadow. You didn’t know that, of course, when you were dancing the night away and believing life was just joyful and fun.

H: I think people will find it really familiar. We’ve all been there, especially students. We have the mate who’s the joker, we have the mate who’s the intelligent guy, so immediately that’s something that’s basically straight from young people’s lives, and then the story is born out of that.

M: Everything feels like you’ve been there, seen it, done it. That’s what’s remarkable about it. Anybody who’s never been to the opera, this is the place to start because you will come and learn that great opera is about you.

NL: What's this particular production like?

M: I’m reviving a piece that was first done in the early ’90s. It’s stood the test of time, so the pleasure for me as a director is not messing it up basically! It’s set in a world that people will recognise: the young people have motorbikes, they’re drinking out of bottles, they’ve got leather jackets on, things like that. There’s also a modern art element – a visual homage to the Jackson Pollocks of this world, the Hockneys, all those artistic icons. You get this commercial pop art world beginning to come through juxtaposed with the harshness of real life.

What’s really exciting about this production though, is that it’s young people who sing this extraordinary, vibrant piece of work. Every bit of it is gripping to watch and that’s all credit to these wonderful casts. They’re bringing their lived experience into it and making everything come alive.

E: I think for us the challenge is that we know what’s going to happen in the opera, but we have to keep it really fresh in every phrase we do. Everything we sing, everything we act, it has to be like it’s the first time it’s ever happened.

NL: Why are you doing a dementia friendly performance and how will it be different?

H: Research consistently shows that music can be an incredibly powerful force for people with dementia, so we hope this will make a real impact on them and their families. We’re looking forward to it as singers, because the lights will be on we’ll be able to see a bit more and the auditorium should have a very different feel.

E: For me, it’s wonderful to make opera accessible to anyone. Inclusivity is one of my favourite words!

NL: What kind of
music can people expect? 

M: If people are going “I wouldn’t like opera – it’s all that weird screeching”, then they should experience this. It’s full of melody, it’s full of the most beautiful tunes, it’s full of this extraordinary playfulness. It’s so fresh. In fact, the paradox is that it feels like it’s been written by a young person, and yet it’s written by a mature genius. The skill and the originality are simply breath-taking.

La bohème opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 12 October and runs until Saturday 26 October before touring to Newcastle Theatre Royal, Nottingham Theatre Royal and The Lowry at Salford Quays. £10 tickets are available at every performance for under 30s.

Photo credit: Richard H. Smith 

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival: must-see shows

Back for its eighth Fringe Festival, Greater Manchester has opened its doors to the arts community across multiple venues in the city. A space for all with performances from first-time production companies to the more seasoned Fringe-goer, we take a look at some of the must-see shows this month.

Plus, our lucky readers could be in with the chance of winning TWO tickets to a triple bill of About Time by the critically acclaimed, Edinburgh regular Sian Davies; Blue Lines, the debut production by Stephanie Moor (under the mentorship of Kinky Boots’s Tim Firth); and Stained by award winning, punk poet Simon Widdop. The shows begin on Monday 15 July at The Kings Arms theatre venue in Salford. All you have to do is drop an email to assistant.gmfringe@gmail.com, say that you’ve read THIS article and say which of the shows you’d like to see.

Lambs to the sLAUGHTER

A group of new, upcoming comics take on the challenge of putting their own show on at the Greater Manchester Fringe. Most of the acts are residents of Greater Manchester (with all being from the North West) with their own story about why they wanted to get into comedy. Many of the acts chose to try comedy to battle issues with confidence and anxiety and all 13 acts are recent graduates of the ComedySportz UK’s stand up course.

Tickets £2 | 27 July | 4pm – 6pm at Tribeca

Holy Sh*t

Brick Fox Theatre’s original dark comedy Holy Sh*t debuts at Fringe after its sold out run at 2018’s Edinburgh Fringe. Brick Fox are a theatre company made up of students and alumni from Royal Holloway, University of London. The show digs up questions surrounding fate, mortality and what happened to Ryan Reynolds in that film where he was buried alive. Fathers George Hobbs and Charlie Moss are two priests that aren’t exactly cut from the same cloth but their desperation leads them down a dark path that is less than holy.

Tickets £8/£6 | 28 – 30 July | 4pm (28th), 7:30 (29th & 30th) at The Kings Arms

Emergency Door Release

Debuting at this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe festival is a brand-new show about one woman’s journey through an existential crisis and the terror of waking up to her own looming mortality. This is the first show from The Bluestocking Theatre Company, set up by Manchester-born (and Salford University alumna) actress and writer Victoria Tunnah, to give people identifying as women more opportunities to tell their stories. The show will be a humorous 50-minute look at all the ways women harm and degrade themselves in the name of ‘beauty’, how we cage ourselves based on how we ought to behave and what’s expected of us and how exactly you can make attempts at becoming a Feminist whilst still having fillers and botox.

Tickets £7 | 20 & 21 July | 8pm at The Kings Arms

Orlando De-Bloomed

Hector Dunderbridge hates Orlando Bloom. Orlando Bloom hasn’t ever heard of Hector Dunderbridge. Neither of these facts have stopped Hector from writing an entire show about Orlando Bloom. Over the course of an hour, Hector will present the finest trilogy of plays ever written (about Orlando Bloom), deal with the concept of hatred (of Orlando Bloom), and look back over the shows that made him a star (the ones that didn’t feature Orlando Bloom). This is a highly interactive piece of character comedy, where audience members are chosen at random to take centre stage, becoming the leading roles in Hector’s plays. A solo performance by Leo Mates who has been featured on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, and can be found improvising with Monkey Toast UK, as well as with Steen Raskopoulos in his show Steen Improvises With Friends.

Tickets £9.50/£7 | 18 – 20 July | 6pm at The Kings Arms

Talk to Yourself

A cross art form exploration of womanhood, female identity and human rights, involving live painting, music and spoken word. In a dystopian reality where choices are limited and the system is unquestionable, three women challenge the status quo through the use of a canvas, a cello and a story. Based on true accounts about pregnancy and personal choices, Talk to Yourself is a piece of verbatim theatre which questions and confronts our ideas of women’s agency, especially over their bodies. The show will be performed by YEAP Association which was created in November 2014 in Paris under the chairmanship of Adriana Buonfantino as a non-profit organisation, which was the result of a strong desire to promote international artistic co-operation between young European artists, exploring the notion of protest art.

Tickets £8/£6 | 24 July | 9:15pm at The Kings Arms

Home

Lauren and Reece, both 16, are determined to make the best of it to give their three-month-old baby Hal the best possible chance at life. It’s a risky plan, trying to balance the stress of school, work and looking after a baby in a teenage relationship and it doesn’t take long for cracks to emerge in their
idealistic plans. Home is an original piece of writing by young playwright Gabriel Stewart that hopes to challenge the stigma surrounding teenage parents. JustOut Theatre, a new Theatre Company formed by graduates of the University of York who aim to produce and promote new writing and work in the North of England. First performed at the University of York’s Drama Barn in October 2018, Home is now being performed as part of JustOut Theatre’s debut Fringe season alongside sister show White Nurse.

Tickets £7.50 | 24 & 25 July | 7pm at Lock 91

Why Salome should be on your ‘must see’ list for April

Opera North returns to Leeds Town Hall with the thrilling Salome. Described as opera at its most extreme, the bloody tale is wrapped up into 100 intense and exhilarating minutes. Opera North’s Press Officer Elizabeth Simmonds explains why Salome is the ‘must see’ production this month.

Continue reading “Why Salome should be on your ‘must see’ list for April”

Cut from a Different Cloth: Why Halifax is ‘On Trend’

With the Beast From the East hopefully behind us (fingers and toes crossed), Faye Chambers gives us a reason to embrace Spring and venture out to the West Yorkshire town of Halifax. Currently in the midst of a cultural revolution, the Calderdale hot spot is reinforcing that it’s not so grim up North!

Continue reading “Cut from a Different Cloth: Why Halifax is ‘On Trend’”