KAY Mellor had seen at least 30 actors for the all-important role of hustler Carol in her stage version of Band Of Gold, then in walked Emma Osman.
“She looked right, she sounded right…and she turned out to be from Leeds,” recalled the Leeds writer-director at the question-and-session session that followed Monday night’s performance of her world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre. “I couldn’t believe it. It must have been meant to be.”
Born in Leeds, raised in Moortown until she was eight, then Selby and York, Emma is being billed as “newcomer Emma Osman”. Although she has played Carly Reynolds in BBC One’s Doctors and Beth Ayres in Snatch on screen, this is her “break-out role”, performing alongside EastEnders’ Laurie Brett, Hollyoaks’ Kieron Richardson, Emmerdale’s Gaynor Faye, Coronation Street’s Shayne Ward and York actor Andrew Dunn, from Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies.
“The call came through my agent, and I met Kay in Leeds, two weeks before my 25th birthday,” says Emma. “It was confirmed I’d got the role later that evening, and what an early birthday present that was!”
Emma first caught the eye in York as a regal, mysterious and love-struck Titania in Nightshade Productions’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the city-centre streets in July 2012. Two summers later, by now studying at East 15 Acting Acting School, she returned home to play Oda-Mae Brown in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Ghost The Musical: the sassy comic-relief Whoopi Goldberg role in the film version.
Now living in London, Emma is nevertheless delighted to be back north once more, and Mellor’s story of “life on the lane” in Bradford’s red-light district in the 1990s has resonance for her.
Written 22 years after the ITV crime drama’s finale in 1997, the play retains the setting and storyline of the humorous but heartbreaking original series, wherein a group of women, Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina, a young mother newly on the game, must battle for survival…and a killer is on the loose.
“I’ve got a lot of family that lived in Bradford. My aunt used to work in the job centre, dealing with lots of sex workers, meeting the women Band Of Gold is based on,” says Emma. “In fact, the woman who Carol is based on is coming to the show.”
Normally, Emma has a rule not to watch a show before auditioning for a part. “But because Band Of Gold was written about real people, I broke that rule and watched all the series before meeting Kay,” she says.
“I’ve also watched a lot of documentaries on sex-workers, especially the Holbeck one in Leeds. It’s interesting to see how even though the women have to be tough, they’re also very vulnerable and they’re just everyday girls in extraordinary circumstances.
“What Band Of Gold does so well is show it all, the vulnerability, the banter and the problems that have put them where they are.”
Carol was “the Cathy Tyson role” in the TV series, but Osman gives it her own stamp, bringing lip, no-nonsense nous, jagged humour, resilience and a strut to a feisty woman who can handle a disinfectant bottle as well as she can deal with men’s demands and the inherent dangers of her work, taking care of herself and daughter Emma.
“There’s a pressure there, but you have to make the role your own,” she says. “I appreciate being given this opportunity to do something so powerful and to play a character who’s so strong and feisty.”
Working with a writer-director on a premiere has “definitely been different from my past theatrical experiences, though limited,” says Emma. “This way, if Kay wants to change a line, she can, if it makes more sense for the plot or improves the dialogue, so there was a lot more going on in rehearsals. And she’s been making changes during the run, giving us notes after shows, so we’re still working on it.”
Emma adds: “It’s given me such an insight into playing Carol, and it’s such an honour to be doing this play in Leeds with Kay, especially as I was born here and lived here until I was eight.”
Playing Carol is a “dream role”, she says. “I’m a big feminist and I’m into playing feminists, so this is ‘full-on percussion’ as my first big stage part. I’m honoured to be working with Kay, so I want to make her feel proud, just as I want to make the sex workers, or former sex workers, who are coming to see the play feel that we’re telling their stories truthfully.”
Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold runs at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday, December 14. Performances: 2.30pm and 7.30pm today; 7.30pm tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Tickets update: limited availability on 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com.