No Fat Juliets

As an actor of self-confessed generous proportions, Sue McCormick quickly realised that the classic dramatic parts were never going to be hers.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 22nd September 2013, 12:00 pm
Sue McCormick  and Eithne Brown in a scene from The Dukes 2011 production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice when she played Sadie
Sue McCormick and Eithne Brown in a scene from The Dukes 2011 production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice when she played Sadie

There is never going to be a fat Juliet on stage or screen any time soon.

Which is why Sue, born and raised in Preston, took matters into her own hands and wrote a play about it.

No Fat Juliets is the semi-autobiographical tale of an actress built, shall we say for comfort not speed, who never gets any good parts due to her size, and who is on the point of throwing in the towel and giving up acting altogether.

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Sue’s character starts to question her acting ambitions when an old flame comes to town with another size zero starlet, but things start to look up when she finds comfort in the arms of a charming poet.

The play opens at The Dukes in Lancaster, where Sue has lived for the past 20 years, on September 26 and runs until October 12 before transferring to Oldham Coliseum from October 15-26.

Sue was just four years old when she joined her parents on stage as part of their cabaret act Bill and Belle, Comedy and Song.

After three songs and her first pay packet of two half crowns in a brown envelope, she was bitten by the acting bug.

She was cast in her first play by a teacher while she was at Ribbleton Hall High School, and after university turned professional and has worked steadily ever since on stage and television.

But her size has always resulted in rejection from many of the parts she would dearly loved to have played.

She’s always been big she says due to her metabolism and after years of unsuccessful yo yo dieting to try and conform to what is considered the ‘norm’, it reached the point in her 30s that she had had enough, applied successfully to do an MA at Lancaster University and was ready to never again attend an audition that would end in failure.

But while struggling to achieve funding for the degree she was offered an acting job that she wanted and she was back on the drama wagon.

She said: “When you first start out you’ll take anything but 10 years down the line that’s not enough, you want good parts, not just the jolly maid. I’ve played the Nurse but never Juliet.

“I’m not stupid I don’t expect to be a beauty queen but there parts who are just women.”

But although in real life women are all shapes and sizes, casting directors appear to have very narrow vision – literally.

“There are many problems for actors. Female colleagues who are mixed race are told they are the wrong colour, a friend who is 5ft 11ins is always too tall for a role. Mine is fat.

“There have been some hilarious things over the years. I went for a commercial to play the bride’s sister and was told I looked too young because I’m fat I’ve got no wrinkles.

“I said ‘have you cast the bride? Could I read for the bride? You say I’m the right age for her’, but no, I’m told I’m too fat.

“Others have said ‘you’re too pretty’ because apparently you can’t be fat and pretty.”

She first wrote the play No Fat Juliets 15 years ago but it got pushed into a drawer and she believed that was that. Since then she has been commissioned to write several plays but always to someone else’s subject material. In a bit of a lull, a couple of years ago she dug it out from the drawer and offered it to the Dukes for consideration. After re-writes and work shops the go ahead was finally given. Sue plays the role of Beth, a part-time actress and part-time barmaid in her dad’s failing Lakeland hotel.

“I was always going to play that role. It’s my baby. I would have had to kill if they’d wanted someone else, she said with a grin.

“It’s not just personal to me it’s a gripe about society. Celebrity mags offend me. They pick women to pieces.

“I put them in the bin when I see young colleagues reading them. The underlying message of my play is whoever you are, just like yourself. Strive certainly, but stop beating yourself up.”

It’s not a musical, although there are songs in it, lyrics by Sue.

And she says it will appeal to everyone from fairly small children right up to granny, and also both men and women but will speak to women particularly. It is laugh-out-loud funny, romantic, moving and slightly wacky.

It makes her cross and despairing when, she says, ‘you can get fat Othellos but you never see a fat Cleopatra.’

“In the industry I would like to see more women running theatres and directing. Men don’t have the same perspective. Then you might find ordinary women, fat, thin, old, young getting parts. We are pushing the glass ceiling but it’s hard going.

“Forty years after feminism and if anything we have gone backwards a little.

“It reached the point that I thought if you’re not going to give me a part I will write it. I had to make my own work. It is so empowering.”