Marji Campi talks to Amie Mulderrig about her role in Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman

Marji Campi is by her own assertion a passionate woman.

So it’s a good thing then that the actress has been chosen to play the lead role of Betty in Kay Mellor poignant love story of the same name at The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.

Coinciding with celebrations to mark the theatre’s 60th anniversary, A Passionate Woman centres on the revelation of a shattering secret that changes family life forever.

“I don’t want to give too much away,“ Marji whispers conspiratorially, “it’s a play that’s very much about secrets.

“Betty’s son is getting married. They’re great friends and she doesn’t want to lose him. She’s not very close to her husband, but she is to her son, he is her confidante.

“No-one can find her on the morning of his wedding, but she’s up in the loft, having cleaned the house to death and you don’t know why.

“That’s when she shares her secret, she makes a startling revelation...“ The play, which is based on real life events between writer Kay and her own mother, first appeared at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1992, went on to be staged in the West End, and was re-imagined as a BBC drama series starring Sue Johnston and Billie Piper.

With a wealth of acting talent including creator Kay herself taking the mantle to play the role of Betty in past shows, it wouldn’t be surprising if Marji found the role particularly daunting, but needless to say, the seasoned actress is taking it all in her stride.

“Rehearsals are going really well, they’re good fun and the cast is great.

“It’s my debut at The Queen’s Theatre so it’s all a bit scary, I’m very nervous.

“But saying that, it’s a lovely place, everyone has been really helpful and it’s great to be back on stage.“ Liverpool-born Marji is no stranger the area, having learnt her craft at the E15 Drama School in Longhton. Many will recognise her from her television work, with credits on Coronation Street, Brookside, EastEnders and Surgical Spirit under her belt.

So what prompted the former soap star to move back from the small screen and onto centre stage?

“When I heard about the part I thought, there’s a role for an older, overweight actress, both of which I am,“ she says, laughing. “There aren’t many decent parts for women as it is, it’s a real struggle.

“In all honesty though, I just love working. Most actresses say they prefer being on the stage than on television or in a film. But being on stage, it’s nerve-wracking, especially the first few nights.

“You could say the play is similar to a soap opera, in the sense that it takes place over an hour and it’s a snapshot into someone’s life.“ Despite being a mother of two, Marji is adamant that she is unlike the character she plays in A Passionate Woman.

“I don’t think I have the same suffocating relationship with my two sons, at least I hope not. Mark, the son in the play, is nearly 32 and yet to leave home – my boys were encouraged to go out and explore the world.

“Betty really doesn’t want her son to get married, whereas my sons could always bring their girlfriends home. I was quite free and easy.

“She reminds me of a lot of northern women I’ve known, motherly, tough, but vulnerable underneath.

“I suppose one of the only similarities we do share is moaning about being overweight. At one point in the play she says – “I used to have a 24 inch waist“ – well so did I,“ she chuckles.

And does she have any deep dark secrets she’d like to divulge?

“I’m a passionate woman, although I’m not sure if that’s a secret,“ she says. “My mother certainly had some secrets though.

“She once told me that... oh I possibly couldn’t say... then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it?“ A Passionate Woman is running at The Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch, from February 1 to February 23. Details: 01708 443333

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