The characteristic Epstein Theatre is soon to play host to a stage revival of Helen Forrester’s ‘Twopence to Cross the Mersey’. In the theatre bar, which is filled with the sound of laughter and chatter, I meet Maria Lovelady, a young actress who will be playing Young Helen in this revival.
Can you tell me a little more about Young Helen Forrester, your character? What do you feel you can bring to the role?
ML: It’s scary for me, as it’s the first time I’ve ever played a real person. I’ve been reading all the books – she’s got four autobiographical books which I’ve been working my way through. So, I want to make sure that I know as much as possible because her son is coming to watch. I think I can bring lots to the role, but at the same time you have to be true to what is written in the books. I think what’s interesting is that the whole thing is from Helen’s perspective. She’s so strong-willed yet so depressed, she’s in this world where we can’t imagine – there’s nothing for her, she has no education, no friends, no family, and she thinks that she’s never going to get married – she’s obsessed with how ugly she is and that no one wants her, that she smells and she’s dirty. It’s so hard to imagine what that must have been like for her, she’s just got this abyss, and this part in the play and the book where she tries to commit suicide, and it’s so horrible for a fourteen year old to be in that mind-set.
Would you agree that ‘Young Helen’ acts as the play’s narrator?
ML: Yes, she acts as a narrator. A lot of the characters speak to the audience as themselves, so, for example, ‘Father’ (played by Christopher Jordan) will say to them, ‘Father went down to the docks today’, it’s that kind of thing. Young Helen speaks to the audience as a narrator – she lets them in on the action, and also on how she feels. That’s quite nice as an actor to be able to literally look straight at the audience and say how you feel, you know, it’s not all inward. It’s quite Shakespearean in that you can look out to the audience and say, ‘this is how I felt’, so that will be exciting because it’s nice to break that barrier with the audience and really bring them into your world.
So you [as Young Helen] are the key.
ML: Yes. With Helen, it’s all in her mind-set so everything on stage is from her perspective, and I think it’s so horrible for that fourteen year old. We have so many opportunities these days, and you would get into trouble for not going to school – but back then, she has everything dumped on her. That’s just her life and she has to live with it, to have no rights in society, it’s so sad. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring that to it. The script is nice – I thought it would be really depressing, because I read the book before the audition, and I was so depressed after I’d finished, and I was thinking, ‘How are they going to make this into an enjoyable evening?’ But actually, the script is so funny, it has the Northern humour in it and the other characters that Helen meets are all getting on with their lives, making the best of a bad situation, and I think that’s what she learns through this process.
What’s Bob Eaton (the director) like?
ML: He [Eaton] is really nice. In my audition, he really wanted to know my opinions. For example, he asked whether I had read the book and what I had thought. He wasn’t like ‘this is what I think it should be’, which was refreshing. I think it [the play] is going to be amazing
The book was previously adapted into a musical (1994 at the Empire Theatre), did you get to see it?
ML: I never actually got to see the musical, which was sad, because it was meant to be amazing. People that I know were saying, ‘Oh my gosh, she [Jamie Clarke] was amazing, the last Helen.’ From that, it’s so daunting to have to fill those shoes, but also, to do something new with it [the character]. In a way, though, it’s good that I didn’t see it because I’ve got nothing to compare the role to. I think when you see something before you go into it, you’re like ‘I want to be like her’, or ‘she did it like this’, so it’s going to be quite nice to play Helen in my own way.
What is it like being able to perform in such a culturally invested theatre as the Epstein?
ML: Oh, it’s lovely. It’s such a nice theatre, and it’s so good that they’ve started putting on their own productions. There’s lots of theatre going on in Liverpool now, like the rebuilding of the Everyman, which is great. I think theatre is such an amazing art form. I’ve never actually performed at the Epstein before in a professional role – before I had performed as a student, so it’s really nice to come back and already sort of know how it works here. I think it’s
going to be a great place to come and spend time. There’s a nice vibe here, so I think young people will be able to come here and hang out, and not feel like they’re in a stuffy theatre.
What do you think of your new cast members so far?
ML: Everybody seems lovely. There’s a nice mixture of ages – I’m supposed to be playing a twelve year old, and my ‘brother’, Daniel [D. Stephen Davies], is 17 and is taller than me, so I think we’ll look alright! I think we [Lovelady and Davies] will be the ‘babies’ of the cast, because we’re playing the kids, which should be funny.
‘Twopence to Cross the Mersey’ opens at the Epstein Theatre from the 10th-28th of March, with a special charity performance on the opening night.