Stage show explores the reality of sex work
PUBLISHED: 09:04 23 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:30 30 January 2020
A heart-breakingly young prostitute in Bradford who approached a married couple in their car, was the inspiration behind the Granada Television series, Band of Gold, now on stage at Cambridge Arts Theatre next month.
Set, like the TV show, in the early 90s, the stage version brings back the characters and moments that made the television series such a sensation. But the killer of young mother turned sex worker Gina won't be the same.
Kay Mellor, the Leeds-born writer, was originally inspired to write the hard-hitting drama when, on the way to a party, she and her husband drove through Lumb Lane in Bradford, a notorious hangout for sex workers, and a young woman approached their car.
"It was like someone had hit me in the solar plexus," Kay recalls, "because she was so young, 14 or 15, and my daughters weren't much older than that."
Haunted by the encounter, Kay left the party early to track down the girl but was told by another sex worker that the teenager had 'pimp problems'. Mellor sighs. "I never saw her again, but I started thinking 'What is it that drives a woman onto the Lane to sell her body?'"
It took eight years for her to get what would become Band Of Gold on screen "fighting, everybody and literally begging people to read the script, because I was an unknown writer writing about sex workers in the North of England and who's gonna put that on television?"
The fight paid off. The show wasn't just a gripping crime drama, it was a phenomenon - with more than 15 million viewers tuning in each week, fans holding Band Of Gold parties where they'd catch the latest episode over wine and pizza and bookies taking bets on the identity of Gina's killer before the big reveal at the end of the first series.
Kay became one of the UK's most successful and revered dramatists, writilng Playing The Field, The Syndicate and Girlfriends for television and turning her much-loved show Fat Friends (which aired from 2000-2005) into a hugely successful 2017 stage musical, which she also directed. That show was where James Cordon and Ruth Jones met.
Band Of Gold remains a firm favourite among Mellor fans. She smiles about people in the street still yelling 'What's happened to Carol?' in reference to Cathy Tyson's feisty prostitute who takes Gina (Ruth Gemmell) under her wing. "And I get in taxis and the driver goes 'I love that Band Of Gold, why don't you write some more of it?'"
Now, 22 years on, Kay has written a stage version.
Having loved adapting Fat Friends for the stage, she adds: "There's nothing like sitting in an auditorium listening to your play and hearing people laughing and applauding. It's absolutely magical. It's like a drug."
"I thought 'OK, let's take this to the next stage'. And I decided to set it in its original time period because actually nothing much has changed since then. If anything, things have become harder with austerity and Universal Credit.
"People just can't get to the end of the week. There are more sex workers than there were 20 years ago, people selling their bodies to feed their kids or make ends meet. It's more relevant to today than ever before."
Gaynor Faye, (Emmerdale) takes over from Geraldine James as Rose, who, like the mother hen, rules the Lane where the younger girls work. Gaynor says: "She's very territorial and nobody is stepping on her patch, but she's a good friend and the kind of person everyone would want to have their back because she's tough."
Laurie Brett (EastEnders and Waterloo Road) plays Anita: "A working-class survivor who'll do whatever it takes to get through life". She rents out a room to the girls for a cut of their earnings.
Coronation Street and Dinnerladies star Andrew Dunn is Ian, a counsellor and client with all sorts of flaws.
The role is a reunion for Dunn and Mellor, who starred as husband and wife in the play A Passionate Woman at the Hull Truck Theatre in 2010.
Fellow Coronation Street star and XFactor winner Shayne Ward plays DCI Newall, the detective tasked with finding Gina's killer.
To research the role of Carol, Emma Osman has delved into documentaries about sex workers. "And it's interesting to see how even though they have to be tough they're also very vulnerable and they're just everyday girls in extraordinary circumstances.
"They're so resilient. Carol constantly talks about not wanting to be controlled, to be independent and her own woman. She's so scared of being abandoned."
Sacha Parkinson is Gina, who is driven to prostitution after splitting from her abusive husband Steve. Hollyoaks regular and Dancing On Ice finalist Kieron Richardson makes his professional stage debut as bad-boy Steve who becomes a prime suspect in Gina's murder. Richardson has a connection to Band Of Gold. His father Thomas was an on-set security guard for the TV show.
As a youngster Kieran would go along to the set and hang out in Carol's house and ride around in the blue police van. "Watching them all work is one of the reasons I got into acting in the first place so it's kind of come full circle."
Shows 7.45pm with 2.30pm matinees Thursday and Saturday. Tickets, 01223 503333 or www.cambridgeartstheatre.com.