Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Susan Brown interview
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Makes a change from the Street

Interview with Susan Brown, starring in Peter Gill's Small Change at the Crucible

by John Highfield, The Sheffield Star, 10 May 2002

Back in the early 1980s, a wind of change blew through the familiar world of British Soaps... Brookside had arrived!

The tough-talking Channel 4 drama forced its longer-established rivals to look at its characters and story lines and come up with something new.

And down Coronation Street that meant the arrival of the Claytons — milkman Harry, wife Connie and their teenage daughters Andrea and Sue.

For actress Susan Brown it was a taste of the pressures of Soap stardom, even if the Claytons proved to be one of Weatherfield's shortest-lived families.

"The family never worked really," she admits.

"Brookside had started some months previously and the producer of the moment was impressed, as indeed we all were.

"The Clayton were a Brookside family who went into the Street and it was just never going to work."

As a result, several months later, following a noisy feud between Connie and Vera and the horror of Andrea becoming pregnant after a fling with Terry Duckworth, the Claytons moved on.

"When they decided to write us out, they realised we were rather good at high drama," Susan laughs.

"So we at least got some rather good emotional scenes.

"I wouldn't have wanted to stay because I absolutely knew that it wasn't working. Who knows, if I had gone into the Street playing another character and it had worked out, maybe it would have been fun to stay another couple of years.

"As it was, there were so many other things I wanted to do, that I wasn't bothered at all about leaving." In television terms that meant everything from shows like Prime Suspect, The Riff-Raff Element, Making Out and Casualty to a starring role alongside Les Dawson in his only acting role, Nona.

The comedy legend played a hundred-year-old Argentinian granny who literally eats her family out of house and home.

"It was wonderful working with Les Dawson," she recalls.

"It was something I will forever be grateful for, that I had the opportunity of working with him. "He was an exciting, life-enhancing person, hugely bright, very serious, very funny and very generous. Everybody just fell in love with him really."

Away from television, Susan has enjoyed an acclaimed career on stage. She has appeared with some of Britain's leading companies, including the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Court.

She also played Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder in Britain, in One Reputedly Glamorous Woman at Sheffield's Crucible.

Now, a couple of decades later, she is back again, heading the cast of Small Change, one of the season of

plays by acclaimed writer Peter Gill which runs at the Crucible throughout the coming month.

Small Change is classic Gill, the story of two mothers and two sons, struggling for emotional survival in post-war Cardiff.

"In literal terms, it is a story about these four people and then" relationships with each other.

"But in larger terms it's about heritage and what you take with you from your past and whether you can ever get away from that past," she explains.

Her character, she says, is a strong earthy woman, very much the sort of part with which she has become associated over the years.

"You go through stages in your career where you think you can play anything and then you realise there are things more easily in your gift," she laughs.

"The women in this play are respectable working class people with decently-kept homes and clean door steps.

"But it turns out my character isn't the powerful woman she seems."

  • The Peter Gill Season, including Small Change, runs at the Crucible from May 22 to June 22

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