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Sarah Lancashire - Happy Valley star on why she thinks we should get out more

PUBLISHED: 09:25 27 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:02 19 November 2014

Stretford-born Sarah in Last Tango in Halifax - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Stretford-born Sarah in Last Tango in Halifax - Photographer: Ben Blackall

One of our best-loved stars tells Roger Borrell why we should get out more and go to the theatre

Sarah Lancashire in the BBC police drama, Happy Valley - Photographer: Ben BlackallSarah Lancashire in the BBC police drama, Happy Valley - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Sarah Lancashire promises to be a pest. ‘In a polite way, of course,’ she adds quickly. ‘But I’ll do whatever I have to do to get the message out there.’

The Stretford-born actor, currently appearing in the BBC police drama Happy Valley, is talking about The Dukes theatre in Lancaster.

Sarah has just become a patron of The Dukes, which was created in the early 1970s from a converted church. However, she doesn’t see it as purely symbolic role.

‘The Dukes is really struggling. It’s not playing to full houses and they can only struggle on with the funding they have for so long. After that, who knows?’

Lancaster's The Dukes theatreLancaster's The Dukes theatre

She highlights a problem that is repeated at many provincial theatres around the UK – cuts in funding and a struggle to attract audiences. ‘Unless something changes, The Dukes might not be there in ten years and I’m probably being optimistic.’

With the fall in income has come what she describes as a significant reduction in the number of in-house productions. ‘There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the theatre and the local community – it would be tragic if we were to lose it.’

Sarah attended a gala charity night for the premiere of The Life & Times of Mitchell & Kenyon, a musical drama about the Lancashire pioneers of film photography jointly presented with Oldham Coliseum.

‘It’s a beautiful production,’ adds Sarah, who first found fame behind the bar of the Rovers Return ‘It’s such a shame that more people haven’t been to see it.

‘The Dukes is a special place, multi-faceted with many different art forms, from stage to cinema. But people seem to be getting out of the habit of going to the theatre. It’s a problem that will have huge impact and it will be a struggle to continue to provide work for people who possess some tremendous skills.

‘Once a theatre closes it stays closed and the community loses something really important. The effort to put your coat on and head to the theatre seems too much for some people. We’ve all experienced it, me included, but you make the effort and you are glad you did.’

She admits that people might have been put off in years gone by theatres staging productions that didn’t have wide appeal. ‘You have to be canny. You want to stage original material but you need to get the balance right,’ adds the star of the hugely popular Last Tango in Halifax.

‘Some people are frightened of the theatre. They think it’s not for them. But the truth is that it’s a wonderful, friendly place. It’s vibrant and exciting. It can be powerful and poignant.’

Sarah’s parents met at Granada Television and the family has been steeped in that media. She is not blind to the irony that television might be one of the reasons for the fall in ticket sales.

‘But just because you enjoy television doesn’t mean you can’t go to the theatre once a month or even every six weeks.

‘When I was in my final year at drama school I wrote to every rep company in the country because I needed that Equity card to work.’ Howard Lloyd-Lewis gave her a chance in roles at the Manchester Library Theatre including Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, hailed by the Observer as one of the ‘landmarks of theatre’

Sarah adds: ‘That’s what got me started but if the theatres go all those skills will be lost.’ She accepts that there is a huge gap between arts funding in London and the regions but believes it would be foolish to treat everyone alike. ‘Provincial theatres do need more funding but the real answer is getting bums on seats. The Dukes is beautifully run with fantastic people, but they can’t do it all themselves.

‘We don’t just need more people in Lancaster to buy more tickets, we need to encourage people from further afield.

‘We need to be very vocal – and I intent to be very vocal. Desperate times need desperate measures.’

Find out more about performances by going to www.dukes-lancaster.org or calling 01524 598500

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