Kay Adshead (born in Lancashire, England, 10 May 1954) is a poet, playwright, theatremaker, actress and producer. Adshead has worked extensively in television and is particularly notable for her regular appearances with Victoria Wood.
Adshead was born in Manchester, moving to Stretford where she was educated at Stretford Girls’ Grammar. She was a child actress with the Stretford Children’s Theatre. She trained as an actress at RADA, where she won the Emile Littler award for outstanding talent and the Bryan Mosley award for individual skill in stage-fighting. She graduated in 1974.
She has played leading roles in film and TV, including Cathy in the BBC classic series Wuthering Heights, Beryl Stapelton in Hound of The Baskervilles, Linda in Mike Leigh’s film Kiss of Death, and Sue McKenna in the Film on Four Acceptable Levels.
Theatre performances include Moll Gromer in Thee and Me and Muriel in Harlequinade at the Royal National Theatre. She was Betty in Touched and sang the role of Clara Twain in White Suit Blues at The Old Vic, both directed by Sir Richard Eyre. She was Constanze in the nationwide tour of Amadeus with Keith Michell for Triumph Apollo Productions, playing most of the largest theatres in the United Kingdom and ending its nine month tour at the Richmond Theatre. She played Eve, Zoo, Savvy and Newly-Born in Cambridge Theatre Company’s epic five-hour production of Back To Methuselah culminating at the Shaw Theatre. She was Tanzi in Trafford Tanzi at the Mermaid Theatre, learning to wrestle for the role, and Liz in Juicy Bits in the main house at the Lyric Hammersmith.
In the 1980s and 1990s Kay Adshead combined numerous lead roles in premiere fringe and experimental productions – Cath in First Blush at the Bush Theatre, Jill in Walking at the Royal Court Upstairs, Susan in Love Bites at the ICA, Stepfather/ Gorgon in Cinderella The True Story at the Drill Hall, Cath in The Still Born at the Soho Theatre, Di in Missing at the Half Moon, First Interrogator in In The Night at The Battersea Arts Centre, with countless guest lead appearances in popular TV comedy programmes and drama series including The Bill, Dick Turpin, Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Over To Pam, Dinnerladies, Ghost Story, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, One Foot in the Grave, Crime Traveler, Mother’s Ruin, and Family Affairs.
She has also played leading roles in the significant regional and repertory companies of the day, including playing Viola in Twelfth Night at Nottingham Playhouse, with Tim Pigott-Smith as Orsino and Anthony Sher as Malvolio. She was Sissy in People Are Living There with Margaret Tyzack at The Royal Exchange Manchester, Diaphanta in The Changeling, and Avril in Semi-Detached at the Bristol Old Vic with Pete Postlethwaite. She was Judith in Herod at The Sheffield Crucible, Josie in Steaming at the Harrogate Theatre, singing the role of Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers at The Swan Theatre, Worcester, and Gila in Not Quite Jerusalem at the Liverpool Playhouse.
Throughout her career Adshead has also directed plays including On the Verge By Eric Overmyer at The Man in The Moon, The Possibilities by Howard Barker, Fen by Caryl Churchill and Entertaining Strangers by David Edgar, all at The Lyric Hammersmith Studio. She has written and directed Bones at The Bush, also The Singing Stones at The Arcola and Acts of Defiance at Theatre 503, both in 2015. She has devised and directed The Enquiry and The London Summer (two shorts) and If Anyone Recognises These Young People at the Roundhouse Studio, and over 15 large cast plays (30+ performers) devised with young people from the East End of London, or within challenging diverse communities.
In 1999, with Lucinda Gane, she cofounded award-winning theatre company Mama Quilla, which seeks to give the female perspective on the big issues of the day, spotlighting neglected human rights issues, and seeks to address the dearth of opportunities in the theatre for female performers over 40. Mama Quilla has produced The Bogus Woman (Fringe First, Adelaide Fringe Sensation Award, M.E.N. award for best actress for Noma Dumezweni, nominated for an E.M.M.A. and Susan Smith Blackburn Award) at the Traverse and the Bush. Mama Quilla produced Bites at the Bush Theatre (nominated for Susan Smith Blackburn Award) and Bones at the Haymarket, Leicester, and the Bush. All plays have subsequently been produced internationally. The Bogus Woman was produced as La Femme Fantôme and Bones as Bones (Les Os), both in Paris by La Compagnie Yorick. Bites was produced as Morsi in Rome and as Bisse in Berlin, both by Theatre Factory Studio. Bites was also produced by Theatre Factory Studio in Los Angeles as Bites the Play.
Veil, an immersive installation, toured in 2014 then played the Alchemy festival at The South Bank. The Singing Stones was performed at The Arcola in 2015 with a cast of nine female performers and one man, five of the performers being over 40. Ongoing projects as of January 2016 included Acts of Defiance, in partnership with Theatre 503, which launched at Theatre 503 in November 2015, and Working Girls, in partnership with La Compagnie Yorick.
For Mama Quilla, she has also devised and directed plays working in communities with casts of over 30, including Theatre of Protest at The Roundhouse in 2012 involved over 80 performers.
In television Adshead has worked several times with Victoria Wood, including an appearance in an episode of the sitcom Dinnerladies (1998). Kay Adshead lives between London, UK, and Houston, USA.