CATHY TYSON TALKS ABOUT CREATING SHE CALLED ME MOTHER
19 January 2017
Cathy Tyson is a BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated actress with over three decades of experience in the creative industries. She is known for her roles in film television and theatre. She began her career at the Liverpool Everyman at the age of 17 before joining the RSC in 1984. She is best known for her role in Mona Lisa (1986) alongside Bob Hoskins. Cathy plays the protagonist Evangeline in She Called Me Mother at Tara Theatre from Tues 7 to Sat 11 Feb'17.
Can you tell us about the play and your character?
Our play, She Called Me Mother, concerns an elderly lady, Evangeline and her life as a homeless woman. She recounts the story of her life in Trinidad and her life when she came to England as a newlywed. The main emotional area for her is her involvement with a kind passer-by, the Black Swan, (a character that is talked about, but never appears) and the estrangement from her daughter Shirley. Shirley left home when she was sixteen under abusive circumstances.
Did you do any special preparation for it?
Special preparation for this part has involved talking to St Mungo’s Broadway staff about their experiences in helping women away from and through homelessness. I read a report by St Mungo’s Broadway 'Rebuilding Shattered Lives', which was compiled by both clients and the charity. It details the different needs women have regarding issues around homelessness. That there are many spaces that cater well for men but not women. That women often have to occupy spaces that are predominantly filled with men and this can cause an imbalance or an overlooking of women's particular needs.
I also learned of the amazing resources available to people across the country regarding services. For instance there is a service that helps mothers who have been separated (due to homelessness) from their children: MATCH, Mothers Apart From Their Children . This organisation helps mothers deal with the difficulties faced by the separation, and respects that the mothers have feelings for the children and still care for them. See the report here Rebuilding Shattered Lives
Other ways of preparing involved talking to the West Indian community about life in Trinidad, hearing the sound of the accent, listening to it on tape, and various written exercises around the text. Also trying to look at the context of the time Evangeline is referring too, the seventies and eighties Britain, when they both came to England, and the context around Trinidad. I’ve been reading a book about domestic violence, which Evangeline and Shirely have both suffered, and I’ve also led a drama workshop with clients of the charity. And getting physically prepared for rehearsal, i.e. staying fit and exercising.
What attracted you to the play?
What attracted me to the play is its language and the character of Evangeline. Also whenever I see a woman speaking a lot in a play, it’s a huge attraction for me as an actress. That she is a woman who speaks my father's tongue is an added attraction. I am hugely proud of being half Trinidadian. I credit my father for giving me pride as a child. So when I first read the Monologue (it was a monologue when I first read it) there were thoughts of my father, Charles Tyson. I was also moved by Evangeline's story. I find it incredible that a woman of her age could survive being homeless. I love the beautiful poetry of her words. I was compelled to listen to her. I have never listened to a homeless woman of Evangeline's age before, so I am glad that through Michelle Inniss's play I have been given the opportunity to.
Another attraction for doing the play is that Michelle is a great friend. We went to the same secondary school in Liverpool. I knew she had great talent then and it has been amazing to watch her develop, I was so impressed by my friend’s work. Michelle showed me the play before I went to University in 2010. I went off to study but I never forgot the monologue and a year after university I was in Liverpool doing a play. I met Cara Nolan, our director, and watched her work so hard on the play Bright Pheonix that I suggested She Called Me Mother, to her. Cara liked it a lot and came on board.
Do you prefer theatre or film?
I like any work that inspires me in whatever medium. I love the reach of film. But of course the live event of theatre excites. The new audience each night offers the possibility of a new show. As we listen out for the different response and try to work with it. This play is going to be interesting as Evangeline addresses the audience so I guess they will play an even bigger role in the experience.
Check out Cathy Tyson interviewed about She Called Me Mother on BBC South Today.