I’ve just returned from interviewing one of the funniest, most charming and interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Cathy Breeze is in Harrogate to co-star in the new play Connection by Rachel Halliwell, which is billed as a ‘Yorkshire Thelma and Louise’. First, we spoke about her Leeds upbringing and varied career.
It was weird how some of the things in her past mirrored mine, although obviously the timeline was a lot different. She was born in East Leeds at Halton Moor but then her family moved to Cross Gates. Whilst in her early teens she joined the Leeds Children’s Theatre which held workshops every Saturday morning at what is now The Carriageworks. Carriageworks was founded in 1935 and is thought to be the oldest established Children’s Theatre group in the UK. They performed full productions at the Civic Theatre, now the Leeds Museum. Cathy’s early roles there were as witches, most notably in Heidi, an adult role at 13 years of age. She told me that her abiding memory of the experience was the tuck shop which would serve fruit cordial, but in the winter it would be made with hot water, a first for her at the time.
It’s hardly surprising that Cathy took to the boards, as her grandmother was a pub pianist entertaining the drinkers in a selection of Leeds’ finest hostelries, as well as a couple of dodgy ones. Her father was a market trader but sang in clubs at weekends and evenings, so performing is obviously in the genes.
After passing her ‘A’ Levels at Park Lane College, she went to The Drama Centre, at that time situated in Chalk Farm, London and stayed in the capital for 15 years. She understudied parts in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre before spending two years on tour in the role of Madame Thénardier. Whilst in London she also appeared at the Palladium in Oliver! directed by Sam Mendes in which she played the undertaker’s daughter.
Outside of London, Cathy has worked with the Hull Truck Company and Birmingham Rep where she played The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. She has had other stints in plays staged by The Jabbok Theatre Company and appeared in Stepping Out at West Yorkshire Playhouse, as it was then known.
As well as theatre work she has done radio plays and the odd advert, usually for charities. Her cinema career climaxed, and I use the term advisedly, as Neil’s Northern Bird in The Inbetweeners Movie. There have also been stints in Coronation Street and Emmerdale.
Having trawled through her past, we moved on to the subject of her appearance at The Harrogate Theatre in Connection, alongside its writer, Rachel Halliwell. Cathy told me that the play is about the relationship between two women from diverse backgrounds – Catherine, a high flyer, played by Rachel and, confusingly, Elaine, a care worker, played by Catherine. She said that although there is a connection between them they are not kindred spirits and the relationship is fraught at times. It deals with some dark subjects, such as death and mental illness, but there is humour in it as well. The action takes place on a trip from the A&E Waiting Room in Harrogate to Scarborough and back so it can’t be all bad. I asked about the ending as I wondered how they managed to work in the last scene of Thelma and Louise driving a Thunderbird into the Grand Canyon in God’s Own County. She wouldn’t tell me, so I can only surmise that they disappear into Bradford Beck in a Ford Fiesta.
In addition to the new play, there’s a chance to see Cathy in a film called Valley of the Fox. This is a bit of an oddball affair as she thought that it was going to be for television rather than cinematic release. It is also distinctive in that it is in German with English subtitles. Because Cathy doesn’t speak German her part was acted in English and then dubbed. Now that it has been subtitled in English, it’s just, according to Cathy, plain weird. It’s not half as weird as the process of making it, because obviously actors are prompted by others’ lines, but, as they didn’t understand what was being said, that was extremely difficult. Nothing that a Leeds lass can’t handle though.
Cathy also told me about another film she made quite a while ago and which she thought had been shelved but keeps popping up at single showings. It is a children’s film called The Runaways and is set in Whitby, so you can’t fault the scenery. It was recently shown in Beverley, so keep your eyes open for a screening near you.
I enjoyed this interview so much that I’ve had trouble reading my notes. It’s difficult to write legibly whilst laughing. During our chat, we discussed why Cathy always seems to have roles playing care workers and generally nice people when she would rather get some nasty parts to sink her teeth into, but it will take some superhuman acting skill to pull that off for this thoroughly charming lady.
Connection runs from Tuesday 1st to Saturday 5th October at the Studio Theatre, Harrogate. There are evening performances each day with matinees on Thursday 3rd and Saturday 5th.
Photograph by Malcolm Johnson.