With Jim Cartwright’s TWO opening at Hull Truck Theatre earlier this year, Nicola Stephenson was part of the two-handed play alongside Matthew Wilson and was due to continue the run at Hull and Scarborough before theatres closed around the world for the foreseeable future, and Nicola’s further stage credits include Stepping Out and War Horse in the West End. Nicola has been playing the role of Julie Hubble in CBBC’s The Worst Witch since 2017, and throughout her long-running screen career so far, she has starred in shows such as Homefront, Waterloo Road and Safe House, and she joined the cast of Emmerdale in 2015 for six months in the role of Tess Harris. Chatting with Nicola, she answers our questions about appearing in TWO at Hull Truck Theatre, filming for Safe House and playing Julie Hubble in The Worst Witch.
Before theatres closed, you’d recently started your run in TWO at Hull Truck Theatre, can you tell us about the show and how had the production been going?
Performing in Jim Cartwright’s TWO was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had on the stage. It’s a fantastic play where the two actors play the landlord and landlady of a northern pub and all the people who come into the pub. Fourteen different characters in all. Myself, my fellow actor Matthew Wilson and director Mark Babych had a fantastic rapport and the challenge of finding all those different characters every night was a lot of fun. Hull Truck is also a great place to work, it is such an important part of the Hull community. I was gutted not to get to finish the run.
What were you looking forward to most for continuing in the show?
We had three more weeks to do in Hull and then we were planned to go to the SJT in Scarborough for another two weeks. SJT is a theatre I have always wanted to work at and the challenge of restaging the show in that space was exciting. But hopefully when theatres reopen there are tentative plans to go back and do it again.
You performed in Stepping Out a few years ago, what was it like to be part of?
Stepping Out was a wonderful job because I got to work with all my friends. This was a project that came from Amanda Holden who has been a mate of mine for years and she basically just got all her mates to be in it. So Tracy Ann Oberman, Angela Griffin, Tamzin Outhwaite and myself joined her and what’s more we got to tap dance!
You’ve previously been in West End’s War Horse, can you tell us about being in the production?
It felt like such a privilege to be in War Horse. It’s such an institution of a show now. And the audiences were amazing. People got so emotional when they watched that show, you would stand on stage and actually be able to hear people crying in the audience. Although it was a very happy time, to be honest it’s a bit of a fog for me, I started work on it when my youngest daughter was four months old and my eldest was three. It was eight shows a week for a year, with mummy duties at all other times. Luckily, I have a brilliant supportive husband, and although it was knackering, I loved it.
What is Julie Hubble like to play in The Worst Witch and what do you think makes the show so popular with audiences?
I love doing children’s television. It feels like you can be as creative as you want to be and CBBC make some really brilliant shows. I had a great opportunity to do more comedy. I think the best thing about it also has been that my children have been able to watch it. My youngest especially is a massive Worst Witch fan and when I took her on set she knew all the characters and the names of all the classrooms on the set. She also got to meet Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble, who was lovely to her.
Was there anything that drew you to the script and character?
I guess I get cast as mums quite a lot, for obvious reasons. However, Julie is probably one of the best. She is such a lovely combination of a soft warm mum who everybody would love to have and also a little bit free and wild with a wicked sense of humour.
What were Agatha Raisin and Silent Witness like to do and can you tell us about your characters in the shows?
In Agatha Raisin I played Lizzie Jellop who meets a sticky end when she gets her head boiled in a pot of her own jam and in Silent Witness I play the mother of a missing child who is found twelve years later cryogenically frozen in a lab. Pretty out there stuff!
Last year, you were part of comedy horror film Tales From the Lodge, how was this?
Again, this movie was just great fun. Abi Blackmore wrote a very funny script and I got to have a sex montage with a Demon. What’s not to love!?
Can you say about your time in Emmerdale playing the role of Tess Harris?
Emmerdale is a lovely place to work. The cast are all fantastic actors who all work so hard, as do the crew, you have to have a lot of respect for the amount of television they put out every week all year round. Plus, there are no egos there. Everyone acts and is treated equally and with respect. People have fun, work hard and are nice. I would have loved to have stayed longer but sadly I was always supposed to be killed off after six months.
What are some of your favourite memories from filming CBBC series All At Sea?
Definitely working with Steve Edge. He’s hilarious. Twenty-four hours a day. There was a lot of corpsing on that job.
In 2015, you played Ali in Safe House, can you tell us about this?
Safe House was a quite intense psychological thriller. I played the mother of a boy who gets snatched on a family trip to Blackpool who has to stay in a safe house under police protection. It was intensely emotional and we filmed it under some pretty intense weather conditions in the beautiful Lake District. Working with Christopher Eccleston was a long held ambition of mine as I have been a huge fan of his since I watched him in Cracker in the ‘90s. His style of incredibly real and naturalistic acting is just amazing and he always has such a level of gravitas. When the cameras aren’t rolling though he is actually very funny, he kept everyone laughing in an otherwise tough job.
What was Waterloo Road like to be part of and what did you enjoy most about playing Allie Westbrook?
It’s always fun to play strong women, Allie is dependable and fierce and she definitely says and does things that you wish you would have the guts to say in that situation. I also didn’t realise before I was in it how popular the show is. Teenagers especially love it and I get a lot of people recognising me from that show.
How was it filming as Louise Mancetta in Homefront?
Again, Louise was such a strong female character. I do tend to get cast in the ‘tough yet vulnerable’ roles. Which are almost always so much fun to do, finding that contrast and complexity within a character. Those are always the best.
Do you have any favourite TV or theatre shows to watch?
I am and always have been a self-confessed hopeless TV addict. I love it and I basically watch everything. At the moment I am loving Tom Hollander in Us on the BBC. Other favourites this year have been Money Heist (Netflix), Succession, Mrs. America and Sex Education.
What can you tell us about Dun Breedin and how did you get involved?
Dun Breedin is a project that came from the brilliant Julie Graham. It was originally a series that she created about six friends who are all going through the menopause, and all the different life stuff that is happening at that age of a woman’s life. The project was halted when lockdown happened and, rather than shelve it, Julie just thought well let’s tweak the scripts and just shoot it in lockdown. So, all the actors shot their own scenes in their own homes with their own families being the other actors and crew. It’s all available on YouTube and I was very proud to be a tiny part of it.
What projects have you been doing while theatres etc have been closed?
Well, first of all, like so many of us, for quite a while I was a teacher! Homeschooling my twelve and ten year old. I also set up a Home Voice Recording studio under my daughter’s loft bed for voiceovers. And got involved with a couple of Zoom book readings. Everyone had to get very creative didn’t they, I’m so pleased that film and TV production is underway again. And I can’t wait for theatres to fully reopen. Hopefully we can go back and finish the run of TWO in Hull.
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