I didn’t know I was going to be in Northampton until about 10 minutes ago!” Vicky Elliott is laughing about the unpredictability of the job she loves.
Just a few months ago, the Newcastle-bred actress was planning to be playing the ‘Cheryl Cole’ character in Harry Hills’ X Factor parody, I Can’t Sing! at the London Palladium for a “canny while to come” before it closed early in May following poor ticket sales. (And no, Cheryl never came as far as she knows).
Now Vicky finds herself in the aforementioned Northampton to start rehearsals for a new production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which will bring her home later this month when the play opens at Northern Stage.
“I met the director (James Dacre) quite a while ago, but the casting process has been quite long and complicated,” explains Vicky.
“It’s a family drama so getting the family tree right was his priority. The character I play has married into the family, so she had to match up in order to make the gene pool work.”
That character would be Mae, a high society southern belle from the Memphis Flynns. “She was from a very wealthy family and has married into another wealthy family,” says Vicky, who graduated in performance at Northumbria University in 2003.
“But both her and her husband think that they’ve married up... she kind of represents avarice and social ambition, which are two of the play’s many themes.”
A mother-of-five and pregnant with child number six, Vicky, who has lived in London for the past four years, is having to employ a particularly big dollop of dramatic licence for the role.
“It couldn’t be further from my childless, selfish lifestyle, could it?” she laughs.
Described wonderfully in the text as a ‘monster of fertility’, Vicky says Mae’s perpetually pregnant state is underpinned by a deep greed.
“Basically her strategy to increase their leverage where any inheritance is concerned is just to keep cranking out bairns in the hope that each one gives them a bigger slice.”
Set in the stifling heat of the Mississippi Delta, the play takes place during an evening of tense ‘celebration’ in honour of cotton tycoon Big Daddy’s 65th birthday. As everyone gathers for the occasion - keeping from him the news that he is, in fact dying - it becomes clear that this is a family dynasty in crisis and teetering on a variety of edges. If only they could all get what they think they’re due in Big Daddy’s will.
“The physical heat of the location is a massive catalyst for the boiling pot of emotions and conflicting motives of all the characters,” says Vicky. “It’s very tense and very high octane family drama.
“I had to re-read the play because all I could remember was the film really,” she continues, speaking of the 1958 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.
“What immediately struck me was how much more complex the play is and how much more depth it has. It’s an ambitious piece, but the cast is incredible.”
Among those joining Vicky on the castlist are Kim Criswell as Big Mama, Daragh O’Malley as Big Daddy, Mariah Gale as Maggie the Cat, Ian Charleson as her husband, Brick and Matthew Douglas as Mae’s other half, Gooper.
“On the first day when we read it through it was just so exciting,” says Vicky, who first worked with Mariah at Live Theatre four-or-so years ago with the RSC on a new writing project.
“We’ve kept in touch ever since, so it’s lovely to be working together again. I think it’s going to be something special.”
A three-way collaboration between Northern Stage, the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate, the play - said to be Williams’ favourite of his own works - opens in Newcastle for a two-week run on September 12 before touring to the other two venues. Visit www.northernstage.co.uk for booking details or call 0191 230 5151.