HELEN Cash, daughter of Karen Grundy, owner and proprietor of Walker’s Opticians, in Market Place, Durham, is making her professional debut in a play which is touring to Washington, Durham and South Shields.

Ex-Durham High School girl, Helen, is starring with her husband, Jonathan, in Tom Kelly’s play Baby Love, which is being staged for four nights at Durham's Gala Theatre. Helen has appeared in numerous leading roles in amateur musicals and has also played the role of Mary Magdalene in a professional production of Jesus Christ Superstar. “This won’t be totally unfamiliar territory, though,” she says. “I do get the chance to sing some really great 1960s pop songs, but they are all in the context of the play when we are performing our act in a club.”

Helen and Jonathan are now based in Blaydon and when the couple were looking for the right play to perform and produce they found their next-door neighbour just happened to be the North-East playwright and poet Tom Kelly.

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Kelly is well-known in the region for his plays and musicals, including Tom and Catherine, the musical about Tom and Catherine Cookson. His work is often featured at the Customs House, in South Shields, where Geordie The Musical played to rapturous houses recently, earning a standing ovation every night. His award-winning one-man play I Left My Heart In Roker Park also recently played to packed houses at the Arts Centre Washington and toured. Kelly also has a new musical called The Dolly Mixtures, written with the North-East’s “Mr Music” John Miles, going into production at The Customs House in August.

Baby Love, is a two-hander, featuring iconic 1960s pop songs and is about a couple who play the working men’s clubs while their relationship is under strain from the female partner’s increasingly urgent need for a child.

The similarity between the onstage and offstage characters also runs deep, because Helen and Jonathan are happily married and have a two-year old son, Alexander, whose picture figures on the publicity material for the play. Jonathan, who also directs the play says: “The script is a joy to perform and the characters have just emerged naturally. And how many people in our position could have such incredible good fortune as to have the perfect playwright living right next-door?”

Helen is particularly looking forward to performing at the Gala. “This will be the first time in the studio theatre, so I’m looking forward to the intimate atmosphere that lets you really interact with an audience. It will perfectly suit the play. Mum’s always been terrifically supportive, through all the years of lessons and rehearsals, travelling to Newcastle to see my shows or to babysit, sometimes three times in a week, and it will be nice to be performing on her doorstep for once. And if I need some more contact lenses, I can just nip across the square to Mum’s shop.”

  • Baby Love opens on April 21, 7.30pm, at Washington Arts Centre; then the Durham Gala Theatre Studio, April 22 to 25, at 8pm. The run ends at the Customs House Studio, South Shields, May 3, 7.30pm and May 4, 2.30pm and 7.30pm