Nancy Sullivan was born in Rotherhithe at a time when the old docks were still a wasteland, when the only docklands development was Surrey Docks Farm and coffee was instant and from a jar. The only constant from those times is the domestic violence that is still one of the major killers of women, writes Michael Holland.
Abi Zakarian’s Fabric gives voice to one woman’s experience of sexual violence and trauma, and through Nancy Sullivan in the role of Leah Cavendish we bear witness to how domestic abuse permeates everyday life, and how a million small things – some seemingly harmless – can result in one terrible act.
Nancy knew from an early age that she wanted to act: ‘I wasn’t a particularly confident child or great academically,’ she recalls, ‘but when I acted I just felt really safe and felt really sure of myself.’ It was her father who first noticed her flair for performing, but he died suddenly when Nancy was just 10. But her mother, who still lives in SE16, carried on supporting Nancy’s dream. She says, ‘After Dad died my Mum was brilliant raising three of us and letting me get involved when and where I could with performing, driving me everywhere and letting me show her my practised pieces in the living room for hours… We didn’t know anyone in the industry or have any “way in” so it was just about grabbing any opportunities.’ The young actor went to the BRIT School but feels her best training came under the tutelage of actor/director Peter Ferris during Monday night sessions in a room in a pub with other teenagers.
Bringing Nancy’s back story up to date, she has just completed filming on Call The Midwife and is also in the new Afterlife series by Ricky Gervais showing next year on Netflix, but, she jokes, ‘Hollywood isn’t knocking yet!’ I’d say that if Gervais has knocked, who cares about Hollywood?
I wanted to know what drew her to the character Leah: ‘I love the role, the challenge of a one-woman play and what it leaves the audience challenging… She’s a woman in her 30s, working class and aspiring to have all the things she’s meant to want. She’s funny, relatable and brutally honest… Leah is your sister, daughter, girlfriend. We all know women like Leah, she resonates in all of us.’ The passion emanating from Nancy when she spoke of playing this woman was undeniable.
Fabric, is a production in support of Solace Women’s Aid, which for more than 40 years has supported women and children in London to build safe, strong lives free from violence and abuse. The play will tour to four London boroughs identified by Solace as target areas, and Southwark is one of those boroughs.
Nancy was visibly moved when she spoke of performing on her own manor: ‘I can’t wait to bring this play to home ground in Southwark, and I’d love to know what the Southwark people make of it.’
Being born in Rotherhithe myself, I already know I’m going to like it.
Fabric is on at Draper Hall, 1 Howell Walk, Southwark, SE1 6TL from 4 – 6 October. Time: 7pm. Admission: £6