Earlier this year, Katy Clayton finished her run as Understudy Jo in A Taste of Honey, which toured the UK in 2019 and finished in London at Trafalgar Studios over Christmas. Between 2017 and 2019, Katy was touring in the cast of Take That musical The Band, playing the role of Young Heather, with the show transferring to the West End at Theatre Royal Haymarket. At the start of her career, Katy appeared in TV series Where The Heart Is as Samantha Boothe across four series, and later this year, she is set to star in feature film Me, Myself & Di as lead character Janet Brown. Speaking with Katy, we found out about her run in A Taste of Honey, being part of Take That’s musical The Band and playing Janet Brown in Me, Myself & Di.
Can you tell us about your time in A Taste of Honey on tour and at the Trafalgar Studios?
I was so chuffed that we started the tour at The Lowry – not only because it brought the show back to its home setting. I’ve also got a personal connection to the theatre having seen so many shows there over the years and spent time there with The Band. On the road, it was really nice to return to a few theatres I’d previously been to. We had a brilliant company on tour and in the West End. It was almost as if our show was made to fit Trafalgar Studios and the staff there were so welcoming and lovely.
What were the auditions like and was there anything that drew you to the script?
I was drawn to the prospect of being a part of a gritty piece of working class Northern theatre centred around female characters – Jo is so bold and tenacious. I met Isabella Odoffin at the first audition and met her alongside our Resident Director Lucy Wray at the recall. I was asked to prepare a couple of different scenes from the play and sing a jazz song a capella. They were honouring Shelagh Delaney’s idea in the original script of having a jazz trio to accompany the play which I was intrigued by. I went with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered which went down a storm when my friend Jayne McKenna (who played Zoe in The Band) asked me to sing it at her mum’s birthday party so I thought, why not?!
As Understudy Jo, what can you say about playing the character?
Jo is a tough and boisterous seventeen year old – no doubt because of her upbringing and situation, and because of the complicated relationship she has with mother. I think a lot of her character comes out of Shelagh Delaney’s direct experience of being a nineteen year old in Salford at the time she was writing it! Jo goes through a lot in the play and, no doubt, has gone through a lot before it as well. Jo feels like a very real character, and she still resonates and feels relatable today.
How was it working on a National Theatre production?
I feel very privileged to have been involved with National Theatre. As well as the high production standards and level of quality in every department, on tour I got to see first-hand how tremendous the Page-to-Stage workshops for school groups are. Jenna Omeltschenko and her team do such wonderful work bringing theatre to kids across the UK. They provide an opportunity to explore productions, learn about theatre and be inspired by it all. It’s invaluable, fantastic work.
How was your experience playing Young Heather in The Band UK and Ireland Tour?
I adore Heather Carter to bits! She’s such a fun, sassy character and because she’s so fashion-orientated, the costumes were fabulous – I miss the blue tartan! I also loved seeing how she changes over the course of twenty-five years and it was an honour sharing Heather with the beautiful and hugely-talented Emily Joyce.
I’d always been a Take That fan and with their songs soundtracking Tim Firth’s beautiful writing – a touching story about nostalgia and timeless friendship that put so much girl power on stage – it was a special, one-of-a-kind show. Audiences really connected with it and the support and devotion that The Band fans brought to it all was unreal. There was a ripple effect of people forming friendships through their common interest in the show – just like the girls in our story were united by their love of the Band.
What was it like performing at Theatre Royal Haymarket in London West End?
It was a dream come true! Faye Christall (who played Young Rachel) and I went to see Heathers there a month before we opened. We were beaming – not just because the show was brilliant – but because we were so excited that we’d be side-by-side on that stage a month later. It’s a gorgeous theatre and it’ll forever hold a special place in us girls’ hearts as the place we made our West End debuts.
Aside from the winter run, I’ve also got great memories of the launch event we had on the roof and the Gala Night for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Robbie Williams reunited with the boys on stage to sing The Flood that night and I was watching in the wings pinching myself.
What do you remember from meeting the cast and creatives for the first time and how was it being part of the cast?
As we got further along the process we were introduced to more of the creative team, so I got both more invested and nervous! I remember sharing a smile with Sarah Kate Howarth (who played Young Claire) at our first recall. At the second, we were so giddy saying we both hoped we’d see each other again! That sense of friendship – the heart of the show – lasted through the audition process and on to tour and beyond. Over eighteen months, the company were like family and no doubt it was clear to see on stage. Backstage, us girls called ourselves PicNMix and I’ll forever treasure the memories of singing and dancing together as we got ready for the show.
The press launch was held at O2 Apollo, how was this?
The whole thing felt like a dream! Firstly, because we met Take That. Secondly, there’d been seven months building up to that – seven months of auditions and recalls in Manchester and London, and three weeks of intense workshopping the script to get ready for the performance – and I still didn’t know if I’d get the part! It was a fascinating privilege to be both involved in the creation of an original production and watch it being worked through its development, seeing Tim’s genius shape it right before our eyes.
You spent the last two winters in London shows, what do you enjoy most about being in London at this time?
Christmas is my favourite time of year and London is lovely when it comes around! How can you not feel festive when you’re faced with, say, the lights on Regent Street or Fortnum & Mason all decked up! For the past few Christmases I’ve really enjoyed being on the Secret Santa organising committee for both shows. It’s nice to bring the whole company together and get in the mood ahead of Christmas. Having Howard Donald drop in dressed up as our very own ‘Secret Santa’ is a Christmas memory I’ll never forget!
The feature film Me, Myself & Di is set for release this year, what can you say about playing Janet Brown?
Janet’s from my hometown of Bolton! She’s an absolute sweetheart – a kind-hearted pure soul who’s always looking for the best in people and in situations. She’s also very awkward, cringey and shy and blindly follows her best friend, Di, to her own detriment! I loved playing such an adorable character and getting to take her on a journey of self-discovery where she overcomes fears and comes out of her shell. Janet has always dreamed of having a movie-like romance and it was such a thrill making that kind of film about someone from Bolton, taking place in a holiday park in Rhyl! (Somewhere I used to go as a kid to see my grandparents!)
What was this film like to work on?
It was an absolute whirlwind! Within a week of auditioning for a completely different part in the film, I’d had a recall, been offered one of the leads and had my costume fitting in Rhyl ahead of our three-week filming schedule! The cast and crew were all fantastic and, with all of us staying on location in caravans, it almost felt like a great big school trip! It was such a brilliant experience that not even noisy seagull attacks and some bad weather tainted it! I can’t wait for people to see it. I’m sure it’ll be obvious to everyone watching just how much fun we had making it!
What do you remember from your time on set of Where The Heart Is as Samantha?
As a child, I think I was definitely happiest on set and, looking back, I realised I learnt so much growing up shooting in Huddersfield. The months I spent working on Where The Heart Is just confirmed that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I have so many fond memories of the show and got to meet and work with many incredibly talented actors and crew members. I really liked how precocious Samantha was and I used to love it when scripts came through where she was in ‘human dictionary’ mode.
How did you get into acting?
I’ve always wanted to perform! I convinced my brother to let me tag along to his drama class when I was five and things carried on from there! My first part was on Coronation Street at the age of six. Through my childhood I kept on going to drama classes and auditions alongside dance and singing classes. In my high school years, I did school productions, sang in the jazz band and did shows with CATS Youth Theatre.
In my last year of college, I auditioned for drama schools and didn’t get in, so I took a year out, joined a couple of am dram societies in Bolton and kept on going to classes. I auditioned again the year after and didn’t get in. But I did get into the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to study Music Theatre. My first week there coincided with filming on Casualty, so I kept waking up very confused wondering whether I was in Bolton, Preston or Cardiff! I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UCLan – I learnt a lot and I loved being a part of the Chamber Choir run by our course leader Mark Goggins. During my studies, in addition to am dram performances, I’d started teaching and loved it. I auditioned to do an MA at drama schools and got offered a place but, at that point, I realised it wasn’t financially viable for me.
After graduating, I continued teaching which left daytimes available for auditions. That September, I started the audition process for The Band – auditions I wouldn’t have been able to go to had I just started a course. I truly believe that there’s no one set or ‘correct’ path in life. I’ve had a lot of rejection and I’m sure there’ll be a lot more to come, but what I’ve learnt is that it makes the moments where you hear a ‘yes’ all the more worth it. It takes perseverance, patience and self-belief – and sometimes remembering just how much you love performing!
Have you seen any theatre shows in the last year that you’ve enjoyed?
I’ve been really lucky to see a lot of brilliant and very different shows over the past year. Off the top of my head, some standouts would be Come From Away – a truly wonderful and uplifting show that I would happily see again and again – and The Greatest Play in the History of the World – which I was thrilled to catch during my time at Trafalgar Studios. Julie Hesmondhalgh was incredible and also one of the loveliest people to share a backstage space with! I was also fortunate to catch Back To The Future at the Opera House in Manchester before the lockdown. It’s such a technically spectacular, funny, feel-good show. Last year, I saw my first Broadway show – Moulin Rouge! at the Al Hirschfield Theatre. It was a dream come true to see a show on Broadway and I look forward to catching it again when it comes to London!
How do you like to spend time away from acting?
I can’t stress enough how nice it is to just hang-out with my boyfriend, family and friends and enjoying home comforts after living out of suitcases for the best part of three years!
I love going to see shows, films and concerts and catching up on any TV programmes that I’ve missed. I also love gluten-free cooking, shopping, Hinching at home, going to the gym and, most recently, Disney+ has become a daily feature in my life! I’m a HUGE Disney fan.
As I’m sure everyone agrees, I can’t wait for the moment when the theatres, cinemas and concert venues reopen. The buzz of the audience will be out of this world and it’s going to remind us just how wonderful the arts and the arts community are.
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