Setting the scene for Maureen Lipman’s Yorkshire homecoming
- Credit: Archant
Household favourite set to star in Daytona at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in October
Maureen Lipman’s first experience of live theatre was in her home town of Hull in the 1950s, when her mother took her to the pantomime (oh no, she didn’t).Thankfully, this didn’t put her off, instead sparking a love of performance that has seen her become one of the UK’s best-known actresses with a string of theatre, film and television credits to her name.
She’s currently starring in Daytona, a new play by Oliver Cotton, which is on a seven-week run across the country including five days at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre. Alongside her on stage in this haunting, funny and poignant three-cornered love story are Harry Shearer, famous for his comedy roles in The Simpsons, This is Spinal Tap and Saturday Night Live, and John Bowe, whose brooding presence you’ll more than likley know from Prime Suspect, Coronation Street, Cranford and Sweeney Todd.
Maureen might be best known for her television work, from Agony and Ladies of Letters to Sensitive Skin and that much-talked about series of BT ads (‘He’s got an ology!’), but she also has also enjoyed a prolific acting career on the stage.
Her one-woman show Re-Joyce, about the wonderfully expressive comic actress Joyce Grenfell, went from the West End to a national tour and on to the US, while her extensive back catalogue with the National Theatre includes Oklahoma!, Macbeth, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Jumpers, The Front Page and The School for Scandal.
The Sheffield leg of her current theatrical tour, which has already garnered a great deal of praise from the critics, is something of a homecoming for Maureen, although she was actually born and raised in the east rather than south of the county.
Her father, Maurice, was an accomplished tailor with a shop between the Ferens Art Gallery and Monument Bridge in Hull, and her mother, Zelma, was, not to put too fine a point on it, a force of nature.‘My mother was a strong influence on my career,’ said Maureen, writing about her family. ‘When I was six or seven I started singing, imitating people like Eartha Kitt and putting on my own Saturday Night at the London Palladium. My mother encouraged me to perform for her friends. I still have in my mind’s eye that circle of smartly dressed, approving – and occasionally disapproving – women.’
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She adored her father for his wit and warmth – he would spend hours standing at the door of his shop, greeting passers-by and chatting the day away – and was hugely influenced by her older brother, Geoffrey, whose initial apathy spurred her on to perform for his attention.
But her relationship with her mother, who was keen – to the point of pushiness – for her daughter to succeed, has always been a little more circumspect. ‘The biggest piece of advice my mother passed on to me was ‘always accessorise’, and make sure your hair is right,’ said Maureen. ‘If my hair was nice in something I did on television, Zelma was happy. She was looks-orientated. I always felt I was a bit of a disappointment to her.’
While she’s the first to admit that her parents’ relationship was more a marriage of convenience than romance, she has nothing but good things to say about her own 30-year partnership with writer Jack Rosenthal, who died in 2004. They had two children, Adam and Amy – both writers, and were each awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List (in 1993 for Jack, and 1999 for Maureen). ‘Jack and I were happy in each other’s company, unlike my parents who were always divided,’ she wrote about their family dynamic. ‘We were totally united about how to bring up the children. We were very blessed because the kids never rebelled and they always wanted to be around us.
‘Occasionally the three of us go to where Jack’s buried and share a bagel and tell him what’s going on. We were a proper family unit and that’s hard to break.’ Lipman has a grandchild, 15-month-old Ava Sabrine. ‘Sometimes I even see Jack in her which is really, really something. I knew I’d enjoy it: I liked being a parent, I’m going to love being a grandparent.’
After her husband’s death, she completed his autobiography, By Jack Rosenthal, and played herself in her daughter’s four-part adaptation of the book, Jack Rosenthal’s Last Act on BBC Radio Four.
Her own back catalogue of books is also impressive, ranging from several volumes of autobiography to her columns for the Guardian and Good Housekeeping and a book of animal poems, The Gibbon’s in Decline but the Horse is Stable, written to raise money for Myeloma UK, to combat the cancer that caused her husband’s death.
She writes lyrically and with a fine-tuned sense of humour, but it seems that the theatre is still her first love, drawing her back again and again with intriguing roles that allow her to spread her acting wings and fly.
Lipman has a ‘gentleman friend’ Guido Castro, an Italian businessman. The couple share a roomy basement flat in Paddington, West London, where she spends many hours pottering about in her courtyard garden. ‘I’ve got the worst social life of anyone you’ve met,’ she said. ‘I’m so boring, it’s not true!’
Daytona is at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield from October 1st to 5th. Tickets start at £17. To book, phone the box office on 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.