Luck be a Liverpool lass

Katherine Rose Morley has luck in common with her character in BBC drama The Syndicate. But while a lottery win is in the sights of the fictional character, the actor is just grateful to do her job

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It’s been a challenging year for the entertainment industry, but Katherine Rose Morley is staying positive. This month the actor from Woolton in Liverpool is set to appear in Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate when the acclaimed comedy-drama returns after a five-year hiatus, and from there Morley is looking towards the future.

Growing up Morley always knew she wanted to perform. Now aged 31, she danced from the moment she could walk and at the age of 11 she landed her first role as Lucy Pevensie in a high school adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Looking back, Morley recognises her school stage debut as the moment when she caught the acting bug, and she hasn’t stopped since.

“I just thought, this is better than any maths lesson I’ve ever had,” says Morley. “I just loved it and it grew from there.”

Keeley attacks any situation. Nothing can stand in her way.

Since her first turn as the daring little girl who steps into Narnia through a magical wardrobe, Morley has taken on an array of roles on stage and screen. In 2013 she began her television career playing Lucy Garner in Channel 4 period drama The Mill and that same year landed the role she would become best known for, playing Ellie Wallace in Sally Wainwright’s acclaimed comedy-drama Last Tango in Halifax.

After working with Wainwright for several years, it seems only right that her next project should be under the direction of Kay Mellor, Wainwright’s former mentor.

Mellor’s new six-part series follows a group of low-paid kennel workers who think their lives are on the up after they hit the jackpot in a lottery syndicate. Morley’s character Keeley, a gambling addict, is the instigator of the group’s decision to take a chance, and everything that happens from there.

“Keeley is the leader of the group,” says Morley. “She is the one to rally the troops and get things moving. She has this real glass half full attitude. And I love that about her. If there’s a problem, she automatically sees a solution, and she can get things done.”

The plot follows the syndicate of workers on a cat-and-mouse adventure after their winning ticket is stolen. The chase to confront the culprit takes the group to the wealthy French Riviera where they find themselves well out of their depth, spending every penny they have to see justice served. But Morley says her character isn’t fazed by the enormity of their quest.

“She attacks any situation. Nothing can stand in her way, especially when it comes to what happens in the story. Everyone else is a bit tense – ‘Should we do this, should we do that?’ But Keeley is like: ‘No, we should get it done.’

“She really is a best foot forward kind of person. But it’s interesting because she has this outward confidence, but actually underneath that there is a real fragility to her, and a vulnerability. And I think she feels more than she lets on, so it was amazing to really explore that.”

Fellow cast members include Neil Morrissey, Kym Marsh and Dinnerladies actor Andrew Dunn, who came together for filming five months after the original start date due to last year’s first lockdown. Morley says for many actors on set it was their first job back after what continues to be a worrying time for the industry.

“We were one of the first TV shows to kind of pick back up,” she says. “There was that excitement and trepidation of how it was going to be but Kay just created this lovely cast and crew and we managed to have a really great time, even though there were all these restrictions and guidelines.”

The cultural and creative industries have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Activities from live performance and theatre productions to exhibitions and galleries have seen their revenues fall dramatically as venues have closed their doors and gatherings have been prohibited to maintain social distancing. According to the Office for National Statistics, the arts and entertainment industry faced a
44.5 per cent reduction in monthly gross domestic product (GDP) output in the three months up to June 2020 compared with the three months earlier.

The pandemic has brought challenges to actors and performers, but Morley is confident better days are ahead.

“With our job you’re always kind of in that mode of wondering what’s going to happen next,” she says. “I’ve been doing it a long time now. I’m quite positive about the future, because I think otherwise you can just get dragged down.

“I was exceptionally lucky that I got to work last year. I’ve got so many friends who unfortunately just didn’t work at all. And every single day I felt so lucky to be on set and working. It was a tough year for a lot of people in most industries. But hopefully things are slowly starting to get back to some kind of normal.”

Morley is the first in her family to enter the acting profession. Her mum was a nurse, while her dad and brothers work in construction. At 19 she moved down south after winning a place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where in 2012 she won the school’s gold award, handed to just one exceptional performer each year. She also studied at the Chinese Central Academy of Drama in Beijing and the Italian Prima del Teatro in Pisa.

Morley can’t tell us what’s in store after The Syndicate just yet, but she has a good idea of the type of role she’d like to play in the future.

“I’ve always wanted to really physically train hard for a role,” she says. “I’d love to play either a superhero or a Lara Croft-esque character. I’ve always been very active, and I’d love to have that crossover one day.”

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