Joyce loves the area and hopes to use her directing skills here

AFTER directing at a number of venues in the south, a Todmorden director is putting on her latest production up north for audiences on both sides of the Pennines.

Joyce Branagh, of Stansfield Street, has enjoyed a successful run as director of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning at Harrogate Theatre and is preparing for the production to open at the Oldham Coliseum tonight (Thursday).

Joyce, who has had a successful career as director, has the theatre in her blood and is the sister of stage legend Kenneth Branagh.

Her latest production, based on the novel by Alan Sillitoe, which was also a popular film starring Albert Finney, has been adapted for the stage by Amanda Whittington and has proved popular with audiences.

Joyce said: "The play has sold well in Harrogate. We got some good reviews and people seem to be coming out and saying nice things to the box office, so I hope it goes well in Oldham."

The play, which features Oliver Farnworth of Hollyoaks fame, is set in 1958 and tells the tale of cheeky Arthur Seaton and his wild ways with women and drink.

It has a backdrop of 1950s rock and roll music which has been popular in Harrogate. Joyce said: "We've had requests from the audience to buy the soundtrack, not that we can do that because it's copyright."

Theatre has been a passion of hers from a young age. Her brother is an actor and often took her to see plays.

She started doing a bit of acting at school and then furthered her skills while studying at Hull University.

After gaining some experience of directing, she decided that was what she would like to do as a career.

She has since directed plays at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, Bristol Old Vic and Watford Palace Theatre. She said: "I roamed around a bit.

"I've done a variety of productions including comedies, pantomimes and Shakespeare. A real mixture."

As a freelance director, she does not know when the next opportunity to get involved in a production will come along, so she is making the most of her current show.

She said: "I've got work now but will I have work next year? I don't know.

"It's one of those jobs where it's really full on for some periods. When the play was in Harrogate I was leaving the house at 6.30am and getting back at 9pm for four weeks.

"The actors are a really nice bunch and people at Harrogate and Oldham have been really welcoming and supportive. Everybody's happy."

Most of her work is done in the weeks leading up to opening night and she admits it can be quite nerve-wracking when the curtain goes up.

She said: "Most of my work is putting it all together, suggesting how they might do it and getting the feeling of the play right.

"When it's up and running, there is much less for me to do.

"When you are sitting in the audience you tend to notice everything that's even slightly wrong.

"You notice things that the audience don't because you know it so well. It's a bit nerve-wracking as I can't do anything."

She feels that the success of recent TV programmes such as the BBC's Any Dream Will Do have helped to make theatre more accessible. She said: “Sometimes it’s seen as quite a snobby thing to do but I don’t think it is.

“It’s about going for a night out, having a laugh and watching a good story.

“There’s something good about it, sharing that live experience. It’s exciting because it’s never going to be quite like that again.”

Joyce, who has been a director for 15 years, used to live in London but moved to Todmorden last year after visiting the upper Calder Valley.

She said: “Some friends of mine moved to Hebden Bridge.

“I came up to see them and thought it was lovely up here.

“I was living in London at the time but my husband and I had been talking about moving up north for some time.

“We had a look round and decided to do it.”

Her next ambition is to work on a pantomime a bit closer to home.

She said: “I’m trying to write a pantomime, Dick Whittington.

“I did Jack and the Beanstalk last year and that went down well so I’m trying to write lots of bad jokes. Next year it would be nice to work on a pantomime up this way.”