The way
I work:
Sue Devaney

The Manchester-born actor Sue Devaney describes how even successful actors have to get used to being out of work. Interview: Saskia Murphy

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From a very early age I just knew that I wanted to be on stage and I wanted to make people laugh. I remember watching all the Doris Day movies and all the old black and white films and I loved it. I always wanted to play the glamorous part but I was always given the comedy roles.

When I was 14 I went to the Oldham Theatre Workshop and started acting professionally. My first job was with Thora Hird in a series called In Loving Memory. I feel very fortunate that I haven’t had to do any jobs in between. I can’t do any other job.

The jobs that I do are very northern – it’s where my career has landed. I lived in London for about seven years and then I moved to Bristol for three years, yet my accent is stronger than ever.

If someone asks me what it is to be a successful actor, I say: get used to being out of work. If you want to get into acting to earn a regular wage and work consistently and do lots of fantastic jobs it’s the wrong profession, because only a small percentage of people manage to do that.

It’s about surviving in a business that can be quite gruelling sometimes. I’m used to it now because I’ve done it since I was a child, but you’re travelling all over, living out of a bag, living in digs all over the country. I quite like that lifestyle. My granddad was an Irish gypsy so it must be in the blood.

I can cope with not earning any money. I cut my cloth accordingly, as my mother used to say. If I haven’t got money I’ll go and eat at my sister’s. She’ll feed me and I know that. You can be happy with money or without money. Money buys you stuff but that’s about it really. We live in a society, and it’s always been the way, where money rules. It doesn’t in my life because I’ve had money and I’ve not had money, and I know you can be really fucking miserable with money. If you’re not spiritually, mentally and physically connected with yourself and with the outside world it doesn’t matter how much money you’re sat on.

Last year I performed in Mamma Mia and we toured in South Africa. I went and I found it very depressed still. We were performing to a majority white audience. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel comfortable. I feel that theatre should be for all classes, for all people. I think the prices are too high. I love ballet. I love opera but I can’t afford to go. I can’t afford to spend more than £100 on a theatre ticket – I think it’s obscene. Then people complain that we haven’t got bums on seats and nobody is supporting the arts – well, let’s bring the bloody prices right down.

I learned a lot when I was doing Dinnerladies. There were fantastic actors there: Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston. I’ve been very fortunate to work with very good comedic actors over the years. I just watch and I study. I believe you’re never too old to learn.

I never married because I was married to the job. I never had any children and I’m now nearly 50 and I think I’ve missed that opportunity, but it’s only because I was busy doing what I was doing. People think you can have it all – I actually don’t think you can. I like to do one thing and not juggle about 25 plates. I’ve got a lovely partner and my sister and my niece. I’ve got a life outside of acting.

I’ve just played the most amazing part: Gracie Fields at the Oldham Coliseum. I loved doing the research. I felt very close to the role because Gracie was from Rochdale and I was brought up there.

I first performed in When We Are Married in 1985 when I played Ruby Birtle. I shared a dressing room with Patricia Hayes, who played the original Ruby in 1937. We became good friends and I lived with her in London for seven years. I’m older now and playing Annie Parker in the same play. It’s bringing back a lot of wonderful memories. It’s JB Priestley and I love his work.
Sue Devaney plays Anne Parker in Northern Broadsides’ production of When We Are Married at York Theatre Royal on 9-24 September. It will then tour in Hull, Leeds, Scarborough, Liverpool and Halifax (

Photo:  Nobby Clark

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I work:
Sue Devaney

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