A 20-year friendship between celebrated actress Cathy Tyson and creative writing student Michelle Inniss has blossomed into a new theatrical project after the pair’s paths crossed once again at Brunel University London.
Michelle, who is completing a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, has secured funding from Black Theatre Live for a UK tour of her play She Called Me Mother, about an elderly homeless Trinidadian woman who sells the Big Issue.
The role is played by Cathy, herself a graduate of Brunel, and based on a real Caribbean woman who Michelle used to see and talk to at London Bridge station when she took the train to visit her own mother in South East London.
Cathy, who won two US film critics’ awards and was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe for the 1986 film Mona Lisa, and starred in ITV’s Band of Gold, left Brunel in 2013 with a degree in English and Drama.
Cathy and Michelle’s friendship dates back to the 1970s when they were both school students at the Catholic girls’ school, St Winifred’s, in Dingle, Liverpool, where they both grew up.
“We’d kept in touch for over 20 years,” explained Michelle. “So I sent Cathy my play, and she read it and liked it.”
The drama was originally written as a poetic monologue in vernacular Trinidadian, challenging for a performer but a voice familiar to Michelle, whose parents are from Trinidad.
“I have that voice situated very well within. I’ve lived in Liverpool, and then London. I’ve been exposed to so many different cultures,” she added.
Michelle began writing creatively in 2005. A year later she was runner up for the Decibel Penguin Prize, then open to black writers only.
She was later shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize in 2010, and longlisted for a production with the Angle new playwrights’ scheme at the Bush Theatre, West London, in 2011.
Cathy says she was drawn to the play instantly when she received it. “When Michelle sent the script to me I fell in love with the language immediately. My father was from Trinidad so I was already familiar with the speech.
“You don’t often see elderly black women on the stage, and it’s such a wonderful opportunity to bring an overshadowed character to life.”
She Called Me Mother will premiere in Stratford Circus, East London in October before going on tour (dates and venues to be confirmed).