Theatre interview: Little Voice role is big challenge for Nancy Sullivan

Nancy with ex-Coronation Street star Chris Gascoyne.
Nancy with ex-Coronation Street star Chris Gascoyne.
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Almost ten years ago Nancy Sullivan graduated from drama school and was an excited 21-year-old landing her first job.

Leeds’s West Yorkshire Playhouse, one of the UK’s leading regional theatres, wasn’t a bad place to start - and Sullivan started as an understudy in a production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Leeds theatre.

This week she took to the West Yorkshire Playhouse mainstage once again, only this time she’s in the title role.

“It’s a big role,” says Nancy, the beaming smile obvious in her voice.

Taking on the role of Little Voice in Jim Cartwright’s wonderful exploration of Northern life is a big task.

In the play, turned into a film starring Jane Horrocks and Michael Caine, LV is a damaged young woman. Her mother, while not exactly abusive, is a long way from Mum of the Year, and has given her daughter little stability since her husband and LV’s father died. The only way LV can find a voice is in impersonating singers of yesteryear, the ones she used to listen to on her dad’s records, now her most prized possessions.

For Nancy, the singing, while vital, is only one part of playing LV.

“The challenge in rehearsal is that it sometimes feels like two separate jobs,” she explains.

“Once you start running the play and I can bring the singing into it, it makes a lot more sense. The challenge of the acting is in trusting the virtual silence that you perform with in the whole of the first act, especially when you have these massive characters around you. It’s a difficult thing to do because LV has to go almost unnoticed, which is a difficult thing to accept you have to do as an actress.”