Actress returns to her roots

Ella Vale rehearsing for The Odyssey

Ella Vale rehearsing for The Odyssey

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An actress who grew up in the Matlock area has come back to Derbyshire to perform in one of the county’s leading theatres.

Ella Vale, 32, is playing several characters in The Odyssey, which is running at Derby Theatre until March 1.

She took time out to answer a few qeustions:

Where did you grew up in Derbyshire, where did you go to school, when did you leave Derbyshire and why?

I grew up first in South Darley (near Darley Bridge) then later in Starkholmes. I was actually born in Buxton but as I was only there for the first three weeks of my life, it doesn’t really count!

I went to South Darley Primary School, where there were only about eighty pupils in total! I was lucky enough to enjoy a really un-pressured primary education, surrounded by the gorgeous Derbyshire countryside. It was there that I first took to the stage in the school’s annual plays which were proper productions, put on at the local village hall.

My first role was as a cow/sheaf of corn in ‘Joseph and His Technicolour Dream-coat’. I wore a costume which was a cow on the back and a sheaf of corn on the front! Happily I progressed to slightly bigger parts, finally playing the lead role in ‘Oliver!’ in my final year.

I then went on to Highfields School in Matlock, which fortunately also had a tradition of great annual musicals directed by Sue Stones and fantastic music and drama departments.

I left Matlock when I was offered a place at the Manchester Metropolitan School of Theatre - formerly the Poly - which has trained the likes of Julie Walters, Richard Griffiths and Steve Coogan.

How old were you and where were you when you realised that you wanted to be on the stage? Where did you do your training?

I’m not sure I can recall an exact ‘lightbulb’ moment when I realised I wanted to make a career out of being on stage. I performed a lot as a child for my dancing school - The Elizabeth Chamberlain School of Dance, and so had appeared in performances from the age of three. I don’t remember ever being frightened by it, it seemed a very natural thing to do.

Then, as I got older, I joined Bakewell Youth Theatre which gave me the chance to be part of brilliant and varied productions, from Godspell to Shakespeare to new writing, and it was during those years that I realised I was good at it and that theatre in particular offered a wonderful diversity which could engage all my passions - language, movement, music, and the study of human behaviour.

At Manchester Met I became part of a tough but inspiring drama school - very different to your average years as a student! I had to be in from 8.30 in the morning every day, often rehearsing or training into the evening. There was absolutely no tolerance for lateness - if you were late by even a few minutes more than three times in the whole three years, you were off the course! There wasn’t much time for partying, but what we did get was a training which pushed us to our limits, and prepared us for the harsh reality of the world of acting itself.

What have you been in up to now - on stage/television/in film?

I’ve been an actor now for over ten years, so it would take a while to list everything! But I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic people, such as Liam Steel and Georgina Lamb from Frantic Assembly, at theatres such as West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Tricycle Theatre London, The Colchester Mercury Theatre, Salisbury Playhouse, and Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, amongst many others!

I have appeared in Emmerdale, and in productions for ITV and BBC. Younger viewers might know me as Catherine Howard from the Horrible Histories series! Most recently I finished shooting a BBC film called Norfolk, starring Denis Menochet from Inglourious Basterds and actually produced by fellow Matlock-ite and Highfields School student Rachel Dargavel (what a small world...)

Before arriving in Derby for The Odyssey, I was playing a cat in pantomime at Salisbury Playhouse, sharing the stage with my husband, who was playing the Dame!

What do you play in The Odyssey? What do you like about the play?

The Odyssey is an ensemble piece so I play many different people throughout. Most notably I play Circe, the Goddess who turns men into pigs...you’ll have to come and see it to find out how we manage that little trick!

I really love this piece, it’s got tremendous integrity, a great brand-new script by playwright Mike Kenny, and plenty of action. Where else would you find a six-headed monster, a Cyclops and warriors fighting to the death, but in a Greek story! But what I like most about this production is that it takes all these things, and pulls them back to the here and now.

The production has been influenced by a book called ‘Odysseus in America’ which compares the Greek myth to the reality of war as it is experienced by soldiers today, particularly focussing on what happens when war is over - how do our soldiers cope when they return from seven months in Afghanistan, and must slip back into civilian life? We all have stories of parents and grandparents who returned from World War II unable to talk about their experiences.

Do you still have family in Derbyshire that you’re able to stay with at the end of each performance?

I do still have family here - my parents still live in Starkholmes and fortunately agreed to put me up for this job which makes a change from your average theatre digs!

Where are you based when you’re not treading the boards in Derbyshire?

I am based in Bath where I live with my husband who is an actor and composer. It’s a really fantastic city with lots going on, and not too far from London which is helpful for auditions. The countryside round there is all rolling hills, much like Derbyshire, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to it.

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