SHE'S never gone down the aisle, but dinnerladies and soap star Sue Devaney is well aware of the comedy-drama impact on three couples who suddenly find they were never officially wed in the classic 1938 JB Priestley play When We Are Married.

"In those days you were married and you were respectable, and these three couples have all made good and are celebrating 25 years and discover that the vicar wasn't qualified to carry out their ceremonies. So, it's very funny and very moving and touching in places," she says.

Devaney plays Annie Parker, who is married to Albert, and has always let her husband take the lead. "He's a domineering kind of character and a bit of a bully really. She married her in her youthful days and when she discovers she's not married she finds it a bit amusing and thinks she might be able to spread her wings a little now. There are a lot of what-ifs for her. I've never been married and I like the idea of meeting my soulmate and spending the rest of my life with them. I think that's what will happen when I grow up, but I'm 50 now.

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"I think when you have that ceremony with that person and the sickness and health thing, when you're living life moment to moment, how do you know you're going to spend the rest of your life with that person? You don't know and I remember looking at my nan and granddad who had that kind of relationship. My granddad couldn't walk and he'd say things like, 'Turn the telly over for me Jessie', and my grandma, bless her, would do everything for him. In those days that's what you did: for better or worse, in sickness and in health. I remember her saying on her deathbed, 'Never get married', and that's stuck with me a bit. My partner keeps asking me and I tell him, 'No, I'm too young. Ask me when I'm older'."

The 1933-set plight of the Cleckleywyke, West Riding, couples who thought they'd got married on the same day, and are expecting a press photographer to call at any moment, was ingenious in 1938. But will this rare touring version by Northern Broadsides have the same impact with audiences of today in York, Leeds and Scarborough?

"I think it can in certain cultures. I think it's still the same if you shame the family such as being married and having an affair. And the shame isn't just on the person, but sometimes it effects the whole family who can still say, 'Brush it under the carpet, don't bring it to our door'. Isn't it funny how we put that pressure on ourselves? Even my sister, because her partner is from a Catholic background, when she got pregnant his mother and father were quite old-fashioned and they had to go to New Zealand and get married. They all thought it was the right thing to do. It's bizarre," says Devaney.

She'd always wanted to work with Northern Broadsides and especially well-known actor and director Barrie Rutter. "I've only done one Shakespeare and that was at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and I wanted to do more. I got in touch with him and said, 'Barrie, I'm nearly 50 and I want to do some Shakespeare, what about it?' and he said, 'We're actually doing When We Are Married', and I suddenly realised that the I'd done this play when I was 17 in the West End. I played Ruby the maid and I shared a dressing room with Patricia Hayes and I ended up living with her in London for seven years."

Ruby, like many of Devaney's characters, is a sandwich short of a picnic. Does the actress ever feel guilty about being good at gormless? "No, I love it. I'd rather play gormless than trying to be attractive. There's more fun in it," she says with a burst of laughter.

Devaney might be best-known for her TV work, but admits she was thrilled to be offered the chance to play the legendary entertainer Gracie Fields in Our Gracie earlier this year. "It was an amazing time and I've always adored her," says Devaney, who is old enough to have known about the Rochdale star of cinema and music hall. Fields died in 1979.

"My challenge is that I identity with Yorkshire, but I became a huge fan when I was doing the Gracie Fields centenary in Rochdale and I sang a couple of her songs and I went to Capri, where she lived, on a bit of a pilgrimage. It was absolutely beautiful and when they asked me to play her I was over the moon. She was one of the highest paid singers of her day... and the fact she came from Rochdale was brilliant. Of course, I had to change my accent.

"Things changed for her when the Press said she'd deserted Britain when she left the country (in 1940, during the Second World War) and it was said she was sunning herself while the war was going on. She travelled everywhere to entertain the troops for no money and I know some Rochdale folk now say, 'We don't like her', but it's funny how you get one end of a story. Gracie wanted to be with her husband (the film director Monty Banks), who was Italian and would have been interned during the war. I admired her guts, determination and that Northern strength. It was said she'd moved away, but if you were earning £200,000 a movie would you stop in Rochdale? I don't think I would," Devaney adds with a laugh.

And a final thought on the legacy of Victoria Wood, creator of dinnerladies? "When I first met Vic, I thought it would be all around the piano singing, but comedy was a serious business for her. Working with her, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie taught me a lot. I don't think there will another Victoria Wood. She was a one-off."

Tour dates: Tomorrow (September 9) until Saturday, September 24, York Theatre Royal. Box Office: 01904-623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Then: Oct 18-22, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Oct 25-29, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. northernbroadsides.co.uk