Emma Osman’s perfect birthday present is a role in Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold premiere

Do the hustle: Emma Osman as sex worker and single mum Carol in Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold at Leeds Grand Theatre. Picture: Anthony Robling

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.

Emma Osman in 2014, when she was playing Oda-Mae Brown in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Ghost The Musical in York

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.

Life on the lane and in the hustlers’ bar: Emma Osman’s Carol, Laurie Brett’s Anita and Gaynor Faye’s Rose in Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold. Picture: Anthony Robling

“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.”  

“I’m honoured to be working with Kay Mellor, so I want to make her feel proud,” says Emma Osman

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.

Charles Hutchinson

Review: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre *****

Emma Osman’s Carol, left, Laurie Brett’s Anita and Gaynor Faye’s Rose in Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold. All pictures: Anthony Robling

Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, until December 14. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com

LEEDS writer and director Kay Mellor knew there was more life “on the lane” in Bradford to be mined. The result is a Band Of Gold that’s arguably worth even more on stage than her already precious, ground-breaking 1990s’ TV drama about northern sex workers.

For her new story of street life in Bradford’s red-light district of Lumb Lane, Manningham, Mellor has revisited the plot and characters of the first series and the score-writing heft of Dire Streets guitarist and original composer Hal Lindes, while retaining and honing her own brilliant skills of everyday detail made fresh, northern humour, dark truths, huge emotional impact and suspenseful, thrilling storytelling. A big story, both funny and sad, now condensed into two hours.

“They’ll get all the joy and the suspense they had from the television version, but it’s live theatre so it has that excitement to it because it’s unfolding in front of their very eyes” said Mellor beforehand.

Emma Osman in her “break-out role” as sex worker and single mum Carol…and what a break-out

Back then, she was an unknown writer, they were unknown characters; they are both well-known now, but still capable of surprises, shocks…and there is still a killer on the loose, but who killed Gina, the naïve, novice sex worker – spoiler alert – is different. So everyone can play detective along with The X Factor winner, Coronation Street star and Madame Tussauds’ waxwork Shayne Ward’s Inspector Newall.

Mellor tells the story of four women, Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina, and the men that use and abuse them as they battle to survive while working in the lane. All life is here: the street pub; the homes; the dark lane; the councillor (ever reliable York actor Andrew Dunn’s Ian Barraclough); the dodgy cleaning contract businessman (Mark Sheals’s George); the chicken factory boss with a fetish (Steve Garti’s Curly); the abusive husband (Kieron Richardson’s Steve); the loan shark (Joe Mallalieu’s “Mister Moore and more) and Gina’s over-stretched mum (Olwen May’s Joyce).

“The Dunn deal”: Andrew Dunn as Councillor Ian Barraclough

Directing as well as writing Band Of Gold, Mellor has unearthed another gem in Emma Osman, who was born in Leeds, but later brought up in York, where she stood out as one to watch when playing Oda-Mae Brown in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Ghost The Musical in 2014. Playing single mum Carol, she is being billed as “newcomer Emma Osman”, and although she has appeared in Doctors and Snatch, this is indeed her “break-out role” at 25. And what a break-out.

Carol was “the Cathy Tyson role”, but Osman makes it her own, 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.

Carol takes Sacha Parkinson’s Gina under her wing when ends don’t meet up paying off a loan shark by selling cosmetics door to door, having jettisoned punchy, threatening husband Steve from their home. Parkinson is terrific too, introverted by comparison with Osman’s flashy, gobby turn, but deeply affecting.

Mellor’s casting is uniformly excellent, from Andrew Dunn’s typically Dunn deal to Sheals’s repulsive George, while she writes superbly for both the younger and older women. Laurie Brett’s Scottish Anita now sings karaoke hits in the prostitutes’ hang-out pub, wishes her life could be more pink and won’t call herself a call girl, although her sexual favours furnish her home, while she also looks after the girls’ toiletry needs etc at a price. Heart of gold, struggling for the readies, this is life on the edge, but in a different way.

The Mellor’s tale: Writer-director Kay Mellor on the red carpet at Tuesday’s press night for Band Of Gold. Picture: Anthony Robling

Gaynor Faye’s far-from-sweet Rose runs the street, hard as nail gloss, hooked on drugs, desperately missing the daughter she lost to the social services. Mellor pulls off a heart-tug of a finale, and even somehow infuses humour into the killer revelation, while all the while making serious points about the exploitation of women.

Janet Bird’s set design of blackened sliding doors, painted thickly with street building imagery, adds to the suspense, the sense of danger, especially when allied to Jason Taylor’s lighting and Mic Pool’s sound design, while Yvonne Milnes deserves a medal for her spot-on costume design, especially for Carol.

Kay Mellor’s 2017 stage conversion of Fat Friends into a musical at Leeds Grand was frank and funny, the wonderful Jodie Prenger and the novelty of Freddie Flintoff singing et al, but the fearless Band Of Gold is weightier, more significant, more empowering, more revealing. The gold standard, in fact.

Charles Hutchinson