Latest News • The Skriker: global warming, eco-fairytales, and science on the stage
admin   Jul 10, 2015

Those wanting to see The Skriker starring Maxine Peake at The Royal Exchange Theatre: There are still tickets available at the MIF Festival Square Box Office which you can purchase on the day of the performance.

There are also a limited number of tickets on Stage Level and Second Gallery available which you can ask The Royal Exchange Box Office for also.


admin   Jul 25, 2015   Comment

Sarah Frankcom and Maxine Peake’s interpretation of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker retains its environmental relevance, but can it inspire audiences into political action?

Caryl Churchill’s postmodern play The Skriker is just about to begin its final week of a sold-out run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and its environmentalist message is as worryingly relevant today as when it premièred at the National Theatre twenty-one years ago. This has been a summer of headlines about record-breaking temperatures; according to scientists the Earth as a whole has experienced its hottest June and the hottest first half of the year since records began. The current climate crisis is entwined with a lengthy history of industrialisation, reckless ecological practices, and the environmental movement has been blighted by financial crisis, austerity, and a political and corporate denial of this global catastrophe. Global warming and climate change are unavoidable issues that permeate news media and increasingly fictional media.

‘It’s a clarion call …Maybe it will make people look at what we’re doing on a global scale and how wrong it is.’ – Maxine Peake

Bringing Science to the Stage

The revival of Caryl Churchill’s apocalyptic 1994 play The Skriker is being led by director Sarah Frankcom and actor Maxine Peake, who plays the shape-shifting titular character. The play anthropomorphises a damaged natural world in the form of an ancient folklore faerie – the Skriker – who reels off playful and often perturbing word association monologues reminiscent of the Northern political punk poetry of John Cooper Clark. It is a theatrical experience, an artwork, and a protest piece that is intended as a provocation rather than linear narrative work. Through movement, music, and a dense dialogue the play connects environmental and mental health issues, and compares a fractured world with individual and societal instability.

Earlier this year I auditioned to be a part of a community choir for The Skriker; an amazing opportunity to be involved in with a professional play at a prestigious Northern arts festival, and, I’ll be honest, the chance to be in close proximity to Maxine Peake who I have adored since she played Twinkle in dinnerladies. I planned to spend my summer as a science communication scholar by day researching the intersection of science and entertainment media
, and transforming into a singing underworld spirit by night. But in our first rehearsal director Sarah Frankcom explained that she and collaborator Maxine Peake would be reading the play as an environmentalist call to action, and responding to conversations in the media concerning capitalism and its impact on the natural world. The Skriker would be at the intersection: bringing science issues to the stage.

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, in Arizona. Photograph: Alamy

As Peake explains:

with our world in constant environmental crisis and our survival options becoming increasingly narrow, Caryl’s play to me seems like the Earth’s last cry for help. It’s a fairytale turned nightmare, a warning and a premonition to our future survival on a planet that we have mercilessly exploited and abused.

The director, Sarah Frankcom adds that ‘one of the major drivers for looking at [The Skriker] again is the world it is set in, being a bit of a premonition about a world in environmental crisis, is the world we live in now.’

In preparation for the play the creative team and ensemble cast read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate
; the tension between wealth, health, and nature that underpins the book also clearly influenced this adaptation. Klein’s book was used as what Peake refers to as ‘a bible piece’ that influenced the play’s creative development but also its reception, with a excerpt appearing in the production’s programme alongside bio-art stills taken from the The Skriker trailer produced by Alice Dunseath. Klein’s climate change argument is historical, and she argues that if it had been addressed in the sixties when scientists first began to urgently raise the issue, or even in the 1980s and 1990s in the era when James E. Hansen gave his seminal Congress testimony on the crisis of global warming and the Kyoto Protocol was introduced, then perhaps climate change and global warming could have responded to without a need for economic revolution. Klein claims

We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets

As a physical embodiment of nature, Peake’s Skriker celebrates the inevitable end of humanity and its seemingly magical and misunderstood science and technologies. Frankcom’s interpretation of The Skriker is staged in a harsh industrial world with hazy city smog far from the ancient natural world recalled by the Skriker, where humans revered rather than poisoned the land. A cold metal and concrete set is utilised as a mental hospital, a housing estate, and a hellish underworld. Audience members sat on the stage level are part of the play forced to engage with this damaged force of nature and her menacing ensemble. The overwhelming banquet scene that takes place in the Skriker’s underworld kingdom revels in a loss of control and bodily pleasures that results in visceral self-destruction: a cannibal feast of human flesh.

This is not a natural faerie woodland fantasy but an apocalyptic reality where nature has become an actively vengeful force, an unseen menace. The play opens with a monologue where the Skriker rallies against the modern world and its destructive tendencies, and as the she cautions in a later scene, nature is fighting back:

Have you noticed the large number of meteorological phenomena lately? Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Drought. Apocalyptic meteorological phenomena. The increase of sickness. It was always possible to think, whatever your personal problem, there’s always nature. Spring will return even if it’s without me. Nobody loves me but at least it’s a sunny day. This has been a comfort to people as long as they’ve existed. But it’s not available anymore. Sorry. Nobody loves me and the sun’s going to kill me. Spring will return and nothing will grow. Some people might feel concerned about that. But it makes me feel important. I’m going to be around when the world as we know it ends. I’m going to witness unprecedented catastrophe.

…or should the audience bring the science?

Global catastrophe is a direct consequence of humanity’s disregard for the natural world. The Skriker, like Churchill’s 2002 play A Number that used cloning as a means to engage with the nature/nurture debate, does not directly comment on the science of global warming. Unlike other recently staged and revived science-based plays like Constellations, Copenhagen, and The Effect that are structured around scientific principles and medical dilemmas, The Skriker requires the audience to ‘bring the science’. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr’s book Science on Stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen
notes that audience members can fill in the scientific gaps, which allows for a focus on ethical dilemmas and catastrophic consequences. The Skriker integrates key ideas concerning environmentalism and dramatises the implications and issues for an audience who are regularly confronted by scientific stories about global warming in the media.

The Skriker is a form of science education; a starting point for discussions of the nature of global destruction. Audiences emerge from the immersive theatre in the round at the Royal Exchange Theatre more often than not confused by what they’ve seen. I’m in the play and it has taken me three weeks of performances to even begin to appreciate its complexities – we have had countless dressing room discussions to try to get to grips with this multi-themed play and its apparent environmentalist message. Peake explains
that the Skriker wants the women she seduces on stage to ‘help set the world on fire’ and convince them that ‘time is running out’ for this world, but the Skriker also seduces the audience into thinking the same thing, even if they can’t really articulate their thoughts when they emerge back onto the streets of industrial Manchester.

Amy C. Chambers is a science communication studies and visual culture scholar in The Science and Entertainment Laboratory at the University of Manchester.


admin   Jul 22, 2015   Comment

Maxine Peake on her role in The Skriker, the ‘business’ of acting – and government plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’

When he dropped his summer budget last week, Chancellor George Osborne made a point of renewing his vow to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. This despite admissions that nobody in government is sure yet where exactly the powerhouse is: will Liverpool be plugged in? Newcastle? One thing’s for certain; Manchester looks likely to be at the centre of this nebulous beast.

But it is precisely that sort of vague political language that makes Maxine Peake – former member of the Young Communist League, political firebrand, rock singer, Bafta-winning actor and Northern lass – deeply uneasy.

“This Northern Powerhouse they keep talking about makes my stomach flip a bit. Everyone is talking about all the investment coming to Manchester. But we know that when it happens there are a lot of people that get forgotten and swept under the carpet,” she points out. “Yes, we’ve got [arts centre] Home. Yes, we’ve got the Factory coming. But you walk out of the Royal Exchange Theatre and there’s a homeless protest.”

Social inequality cuts Peake, 40, deeply. A passionate socialist, those protesters who have set up camp outside the city centre theatre, where she is appearing in an acclaimed new production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker (below) as part of the Manchester International Festival, are for her a constant reminder of what government funding cuts are doing to the most vulnerable in society.

“I’ve been chatting to people there and it’s been breaking my heart,” she says, expressing disgust that earlier this year the city’s Central Library employed security guards to stop protesters using its public toilets.

“Manchester used to pride itself as a progressive city. Now it doesn’t feel that we’re looking after our people. If this is going to be the price we pay for being some big industrial stronghold, I don’t know if that’s the Manchester I want to be in. London is going to become some sort of gated city soon where only the privileged can afford to live. I would hate Manchester to become the same.”

She feels there is a disconnect between the populace and politicians that’s eating at the heart of democracy: “I’m annoyed we voted not to have a mayor and then we get one thrown at us. Where’s the democracy in that? If it’s some sort of Tory experiment, I can’t say I’m happy about it.”

Do the arts have a role to play in fighting against that breach? Peake, who lives in Salford with her partner Pawlo Wintoniuk, says that when she was younger she would “get slightly annoyed” when people spoke of the theatre and arts being a force for change. “I used to think: ‘Oh, bog off.’ But now I’ve got older, I feel people are looking to culture to get some inspiration to be able to start a debate.”

However, she believes that theatre, TV and films made in the UK still fail to reflect reality. “We bang on about the female roles, but there are lots more issues that aren’t being tackled. We’re not representing England as the diverse place that it is.

“As I’ve got older the work has got better, but I’ve had the power in a way. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to have some input into creating some of my own work. The younger actors I meet have a different view. It’s a business now and they know that. America is on the list of things to do.

“When I started it was just the National Theatre and the RSC,” she continues. “We were told: ‘Get 10 years of decent work under your belt and that will be the start of your career.’ That’s what happened to me. I don’t think I’d be acting if I was a youngster today. The competition is a lot stiffer now.”

Playing a malevolent supernatural being in a variety of guises in The Skriker is, Peake admits, “harder than Hamlet”, in which she played the lead at the Manchester International Festival last year. “It’s very physical and there’s a lot of movement in it, which is something I’ve not really done before.”

Describing it as “a clarion call”, she explains that “it harks back to a time when life was simpler, when we were a country that was very pagan and the land was kind. We revered the land and now we don’t. We just seem to poison and punish it. So we reap what we sow.

“It’s a real theatrical experience,” she says. “I don’t think people will go away and go: ‘I got every moment of that play’. But it’s not meant to be like that. Maybe it will make people look at what we’re doing on a global scale and how wrong it is. But you can’t fight climate change until you tackle capitalism because money is king and this evil disease of capitalism has infected everything. We’re at crisis point and it won’t start getting better unless we do something now.”

It’s clear the Bolton-born actor is not one to avoid a tough road. That fearlessness is part of what makes her one of the most-loved actors – and now singer, with the Eccentronic Research Council – of our generation. “I think a lot of people would read the script for The Skriker and go: ‘I don’t know where to start.’ But if you worry about whether people are going to like it, you’re on a hiding to nothing. If it moves you there will always be a percentage of people who will come with you.”

The Skriker is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until August 1

Words: Richard Smirke


admin   Jul 18, 2015   Comment

The Moonlandingz comprised of 1 part Fat White Family and 1 part Eccentronic Research Council are on whole lot of band. Their track ‘Sweet Saturn Mine’ absolutely tore our faces off when it was released a few months back and now the band are ready to start a UK tour, but as Adrian Flanagan explains they started out as a fictional band.

“The latest ERC album is an electronic spoken word concept album featuring actress Maxine Peake (Shameless,The Falling, Silk), who plays a stalker obsessed by the lead singer of a (fictional) band called The Moonlandingz. I thought to flesh the album out it would be cool to create an actual band around the narrative, so I called up Saul & Lias from the Fat White Family, who I hit it off with a few months earlier, at a now, legendary Fat Whites show in Sheffield that ended in bodily matter being smeared & thrown around, possibly encouraged pre-show, by myself (laughs). So anyway, I asked them if they wanted to be in my fictional band and they were dead up for it. They came up to Sheffield & we wrote an EP’s worth of songs at ERC member, Dean Honer’s studio. One of which, ‘Sweet Saturn Mine’ totally blew up on the radio, 6 Music were playing it daily for a couple of months, so this fictional band took on a life of its own, getting actual non fictional fans of their own (even Jason Sleaford Mods is in to us, ha) and all of a sudden I’m getting loads of messages from promoters all over Europe saying they want us to do shows. Which I had to turn down as we weren’t a real band and we only had 4 songs.

To be honest, I think we were all surprised of how much people took to the songs and the band, so we decided to get together over this summer to write more songs and get a little live set together, it’s already sounding pretty amazing. Lias has moved up to Sheffield for the summer writing words & laying down vocals with us & we’ve got Saul coming up sporadically, to summon up some demonic sonics. That kids one of the best guitarists and songwriters out there right now. It really fucking works, Dean & I, a couple of old beardy analogue twonks with a penchant for real ale & witchcraft & Lias & Saul, furious, filthy & quite likely, incredibly high. It’s a very sexy combination.”

As well as all this excitement the band will also be releasing an expanded EP via Sean Lennon and a video which is “All kinds of wrong” according to Flanagan. “Come Autumn, we hope to be the most hated fictional band by Christian rednecks in the U.S, they love getting wound up by stuff that doesn’t even exist though, don’t they?”

Bring on the Autumn!

25th August – Glasgow – Broadcast

26th August – Leeds – Belgrave Music Hall

27th August – Manchester – Night & Day Cafe

28th August – London – The Lexington

29th August – Sheffield – Picture House Social


admin   Jul 14, 2015

Today marks the birthday of Maxine Peake. It can be said with no hesitation that Maxine is not only an exceptional actress, but a human true to herself, her sense for justice, politically and socially, as well as her ambition is something to take as an example. Happy Birthday Maxine Peake!!


admin   Jul 13, 2015

Royal Exchange, Manchester
4/5 stars
Caryl Churchill’s doom-wreaking Skriker, created 20 years ago, proves to be a primary figure of modern theatre

She would not be welcome as a member of the Garrick Club. She has no penis, no establishment position and is not big on banter. Nevertheless, the Skriker is one of the primary figures of modern theatre.

As Caryl Churchill’s shape-shifting, doom-wreaking fairy, Maxine Peake rams home this importance. She slams and slides and swarms. She comes on as a crop-haired, grey-clad prophetess, growling accusations. She reappears, whining, as a shaggy creature tethered to plastic bags. She becomes a sleek woman from a southern state, with shades and a cocktail glass, and a clingy, wheedling girl in an anorak. She is a tattered, winking Gloriana, a sleek, androgynous seducer in a tie, and a winsome elf with a teeny voice and gauzy wings.

Churchill’s play is almost entirely female. The voice of its ancient Cassandra is dominant. Its most sympathetic characters are two young women, strongly rendered by Laura Elsworthy and Juma Sharkah. One has killed her baby; the other is pregnant. The Skriker haunts them, tormenting and enticing. The few males in Sarah Frankcom’s explosive production are part of a disordered landscape in which animation means mutation: one who writhes in ecstatic dance may be partly a horse; another has a giant ear sprouting from the top of his head like a satellite dish.

Yet The Skriker reclaims what have been thought as “women’s issues” for humanity. Motherhood may, after all, also affect men. Churchill uses a female voice to express a skewed world. And what better time to stage this? We are in an era of theatrical dystopias. Of dark fragmentary dramas, which dip in and out of underworlds. A few months ago, Simon Stephens’s Carmen Disruption smouldered at the Almeida. Alistair McDowall’s tale of lost souls, Pomona, will shortly be seen at the National and in Manchester, on whose geography it draws. Zinnie Harris’s How to Hold Your Breath, which also starred Peake, made a claim on the same territory at the Royal Court. The Skriker, first staged in 1994, now looks like the fairy godmother of them all.

It is powerful in picturing disorder. It is bewildering, sometimes maddening in its fecund confusion. It is also extraordinarily prescient. Using fairytale to project hard truths is now common feminist currency; it was rarer 20 years ago. As was certainty about climate catastrophe, an environmental tragedy that here looks like moral rupture, psychic disaster writ large. Weird things are happening with the weather. “It was always possible to think whatever your personal problem, there’s always nature… Nobody loves me but at least it’s a sunny day.” That consolation has now gone.

Everything is disintegrating, including speech. The Skriker’s language freewheels from sense to delirium. It is as if the speaker had a tempest in her mouth that blows the boundaries between one word and another: “Pin prick cockadoodle do you feel it?” It is not an invented language; rather a repunctuation. Her opening speech, delivered in a sustained rush, is almost the length of a short Beckett play and has some of the same force. Peake can’t make its sentences clear, but she makes it evident that, however hermetic her outpouring, it is not all bunkum. It swims in and out of sense: “The baby has no name better nick a name, better Old Nick than no name.” She pulls you into the echoes of nursery rhyme and fairytale. Specially commissioned music by Nico Muhly and Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), sometimes harsh, sometimes gently marimba, also penetrates these speeches.

Lizzie Clachan, one of the theatre’s boldest design talents, makes a bedlam cabaret out of the Royal Exchange. Audience members sit at rough wooden tables amid the duskily lit action. In a terrific banquet scene, in which huge platters are laden with goodies, one guest delivers a running commentary on what it is to see her own limbs and parts spread out to be devoured. Around the stage, alcoves contain glimpses of ordinary life, diminished to miniature size: rows of sunflowers, bright little houses.

It is extraordinary how rapidly Manchester international festival has established itself. Manchester and Dublin are now the cities for guaranteed festival excitement, not least because the programme is not all one-off fizzing. It looks to the future. The Skriker shows in action one of the most interesting of theatrical partnerships. Frankcom, who runs the Royal Exchange, directed Peake as Hamlet and – incandescently – in her recitation of The Masque of Anarchy. This latest collaboration proves that her theatre will go on provoking.


admin   Jul 13, 2015

BOLTON actress Maxine Peake has hit out at a perceived lack of support for the arts — claiming it is “impossible” for young people to get into the business.

The star of TV’s Silk and Shameless was rejected by every drama school in the North West, before gaining a place at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London at the age of 21.

Maxine, aged 40, says she only got through art school after receiving a scholarship, and that she fears for the ability of young people from similar backgrounds to hers to make it in the acting world.

The former Westhoughton High School pupil is currently starring in an adaptation of Caryl Churchill’s 1994 play The Skriker, which is being held at the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of the Manchester International Festival.

In an interview on BBC’s Newsnight, she said: “It was never easy. I didn’t get a grant or any funding, luckily I got a scholarship to go, so I got three years maintenance and fees paid for, otherwise I couldn’t go.

“But there is no encouragement now, there is no money for youngsters to go to drama school. It’s not just the fees, it’s living in London, most of the major drama schools are in London, it’s impossible.

“It feels as though we are going to lose a huge swathe of talent, just for financial reasons.”

Maxine is not the only actress to voice such concerns, with Julie Walters previously saying many working class children find it difficult to get into drama school.

The debate has been intensified following the success of privately educated actors such as Eddie Redmayne, who appeared in Les Miserables, and Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Maxine said more should be done to promote young people’s involvement in the arts.

She added: “The Royal Exchange theatre doesn’t get any money from the council, but the young theatre group they have there does amazing work in encouraging young people who otherwise couldn’t get in the business, because they can’t afford to go to drama school.

“There are places like the Royal Exchange that are doing that but its not just their place to do that.

Alex Poots, the director of the Manchester International Festival, also told the programme: “It’s not fair for whole swathes of communities who are not going to get opportunities because the investment is not there.

“One of the things that Britain does brilliantly is culture and arts, and for some reason we are not acknowledging that.”


admin   Jul 12, 2015

Actor Maxine Peake plays the lead role in a revival of Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until 1 August.

In the play she plays a shape-shifter, a malevolent fairy who morphs into an old woman living on the streets, an American debutante and a child desperately seeking a mother figure.

The play begins with an extraordinary monologue in which The Skriker rails against the modern world in an outpouring of inventive wordplay and puns.

Here Maxine Peake explains how she approached this scene.

admin   Jul 11, 2015

Maxine appeared on BBC Newsnight yesterday, you can watch the episode by following this link. Enjoy!

Here’s a quote from Maxine on the show –

Actress Maxine Peake:

This government is taking away people’s opportunities to fulfill their ambitions.

admin   Jul 10, 2015

The Guardian has published a great new article about Maxine. I’ve posted it below, it’s a good after work read so you should definitely check it out!

Actor defied early rejections from drama schools to become one of Britain’s most exciting stage names, winning plaudits for her roles as well as her personality

Maxine Peake: ‘I don’t like modern life. I pine for the simplicity of the past.’

It is a mark of the boldness and versatility of Maxine Peake that she is one of the few actors to have played both Ophelia and Hamlet in productions of Shakespeare’s Danish tragedy. And this protean quality is currently on show every night at the Manchester Royal Exchange theatre, where, portraying an ancient shape-shifter in a revival of Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker, she inhabits a vast range of characters – old, young, male, female, English, American, historical, contemporary, mythical – during two hours of being almost permanently on stage.

British actors who have just done a successful movie – Peake is in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything – and starred in a hit TV series (she played an ambitious barrister in Silk) often move on to Hollywood or Broadway. And, while those options remain open, it seems typical of Peake that she should now appear in a piece of experimental theatre; The Skriker combines music, movement and torrential monologues in an invented language.

Peake was born in Bolton, and The Skriker is the sixth time in 10 years the actor has worked in Manchester with Sarah Frankcom, artistic director of the Royal Exchange, where Peake was a member of the youth theatre as a teenager. Her performance in the title role of Hamlet last year, a show that numerous producers elsewhere would love to have hosted, was for Exchange audiences only and set box office records.

“She chooses to live in the north and often to work there,” says Frankcom. “It’s a very important part of who she is.”

An earlier generation of northern actors – including Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney – were encouraged to southernise their vowels in theatre, and while Britain has become more tolerant of dialect, increasing screen possibilities in the US place a fresh pressure on actors to even out their speech. Frankcom notes that Peake, born in 1974, “has resolutely never lost her Boltonian accent and I think that’s very important for young actors because we can still be funny about regional accents in theatre, partly, I’m afraid, for class reasons. But Max is very proud of where she comes from.”

Anyone drawn to The Skriker by having seen Peake in Silk will be impressed by an acting range that easily encompasses both screen realism and theatrical surrealism. However, Peter Moffat, writer of three TV series in which Peake has starred – Criminal Justice, Silk and The Village – believes there is a unifying factor across her work: risk. Most obviously, she braved tabloid editorialising to play the Moors murderer Myra Hindley in a 2006 TV mini-series but, even in less obviously edgy parts, says Moffat, there is a level of jeopardy.

“I think she likes playing roles that people don’t think she’s going to be able to do. That’s true of Hamlet, clearly. But, when I first saw her at an audition for Criminal Justice, she was this northern young woman who convinced us that she could play a posh London character with an RP accent. In Silk, she wasn’t obvious casting for a QC. I think there can be an edge and danger that comes from the actor worrying if they’re going to be able to pull it off. And that crackle comes through the screen.”

Maxine Peake in The Skriker.

Theatrical anecdote suggests that Peake’s portrayal of the Prince of Denmark resulted from Frankcom asking her which part would most terrify her to play. The director, though, says that isn’t quite right. Generally, their joint projects have been suggested by Frankcom or Alex Poots, artistic director of the Manchester festival, but Hamlet was the exception: “Ever since I’d known her, Max was saying that was what she wanted to do and I’d kept saying it was too early to try something like that, but eventually the time seemed right.”

A key decision for female Hamlets – a tradition that stretches back to the theatrical pioneer Sarah Bernhardt – is how manly to be. Peake, with a short peroxide crop, opted for androgyny and sexual ambiguity, which brought a new perspective to the prince’s struggle to be the man he wants to be. Her Hamlet also transmitted a sense of danger, looking as if he could do some damage in the climactic duel.

Born in Westhoughton, in Bolton, she is the youngest daughter of Brian, a retired lorry driver, and Glynis, a former careworker. Her older sister, Lisa, became a police officer when Peake was a teenager: a profession that challenged the family’s leftwing, union-supporting politics. As part of the recruitment process, a sergeant came to meet the family, finding Maxine, as she told a BBC interviewer, wearing an African awareness pendant, trainers with an anarchy sign drawn on and a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badge. “What Lisa and her colleagues go through, particularly on Saturday night in Manchester, is appalling. I have huge admiration for her,” she has said.

Maxine’s acting ambitions were thwarted by repeated rejections from drama schools before she earned a scholarship to Rada at the age of 21. Soon after graduation, she had two standout roles on TV: as Twinkle in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies and Veronica in Paul Abbott’s Shameless.

An unusual aspect of Peake’s pre-acting CV is that she was a talented rugby league player for Wigan Ladies and Moffat believes that this strength and athleticism brings a useful physicality to her work: “The thing about Maxine is that she can credibly run, fight and punch. There’s a scene in The Village where her character is fighting in the mud to get her child back and Maxine got so into it that the crew had to pull her away.”

In the area of mental exercise, the actor’s recent theatre projects include a play about the cycling legend Beryl Burton, which was also broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Along with The Skriker – one of the longest and oddest parts in modern theatre – this move suggests a continuing desire to test herself.

On Manchester projects, Peake now takes the unusual credit “creative associate and lead artist”, although Frankcom describes her as “very much a company member”. During a TV production, Peake noticed that a young actor was not only eating huge amounts at the catering truck every lunchtime but then inviting his girlfriend to the meals as well.

It turned out the man was not being paid due to an accounting error he was too nervous to raise. Peake went to see the producers and got the payroll sorted out. This democratic instinct is also apparent at the end of The Skriker, when, as the audience tries to give Peake a solo ovation for her feat of vocal and physical athleticism, she quickly waves on the other actors to share the applause.

Her role in Silk led her to join a protest against legal aid cuts.

Another of her deeply held values is that, as Frankcom says, “she wants to do plays that mean something politically and socially”. Her level of ideological commitment is such that the role in Silk provoked Peake to march with lawyers campaigning against restrictions on legal aid. When an actor asked her recently what she thought of Game of Thrones, she answered that she “hadn’t seen it, obviously”, the final word referring to her refusal to subscribe to a network owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Sometimes, though, a political subtext may lead her to choose the wrong text. How To Hold Your Breath, a new play by Zinnie Harris at the Royal Court in London, had big things to say about the future of Europe, but the script was underwritten and obscurely staged.

A moment during that run, though, showed Peake’s depths of concentration and professionalism. One night, as Peake delivered the climactic monologue, a member of the audience became seriously unwell, resulting in a shout for a medical professional and noisy clambering over seats to reach the stricken theatregoer. A momentary flicker in Peake’s eyes revealed that she had noticed something was going on, but she remained word-perfect through a complex speech.

This ability to maintain focus has also been noted by Moffat during TV shoots. “Filming can be tedious and repetitive. But even by the seventh take of a scene, she’s still listening to what the other actor says and responding to it, giving you something fresh.”

Although she will continue to be offered major TV roles, her recent work suggests a move away from peak-time Peake towards something more like the career of Tilda Swinton, who has won an Oscar but is just as likely to turn up as a living artwork at the Serpentine Gallery or perform a Samuel Beckett monologue in a converted phone booth in the Scottish Highlands.

“I think it’s partly because there aren’t obvious career routes for actresses when they get to 40,” says Frankcom, “and so you have to work out what it is you want to do. I think Max has learned the cost of doing things she doesn’t believe in and so now she has to be really committed to something.”

Peake has attributed her artistic freedom partly to having a smaller mortgage than her London-based contemporaries – due to living in Salford with her partner, artist Pawlo Wintoniuk. She is writing a play and, with Frankcom, planning a seventh Manchester collaboration, which remains under wraps. A new play or a classic? “Ah. A bit of both, really,” says the director, tantalisingly. Moffat, meanwhile, plans more scripts for The Village and is also working on a stage monologue for Peake about a standup comedian.

“I’ve done 30 hours of television with her now,” says Moffat, “and she has never spoken a line of mine wrongly. There has never been an interpretation that jarred, which is very rare. She has this native actor’s intelligence for what you intended or even sometimes to go beyond that and show you something you didn’t know was there.”

“I simply wouldn’t be able to predict what sort of work she’d be doing in five years,” says Frankcom. “And that tells you a lot about her.”

Potted Profile

Born: 14 July, 1974, Bolton

Career: Initially rejected by every drama school in the north-west, accepted at Rada at 21. Her breakthrough roles were in TV comedies by northern writers: Paul Abbott’s Shameless and Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. Although Peake’s career has subsequently gone into very different areas, Wood was a crucial early mentor.

High point: A feat of learning and performance, requiring extraordinary levels of vocal and physical power, The Skriker (at the Manchester Royal Exchange until 18 July) is the perfect showcase for her talents.

Low point: Her early rejection raises worrying questions about possible class and social prejudice in drama recruitment.

She says: “I’m old-fashioned. I don’t like modern life. I pine for the simplicity of the past and the connections people had.”

They say: “In her Chairman Mao suit and David Bowie hair, Peake uses every part of the stage, every prop, every poise of the body to deliver a 400-year-old script as if the words have just come to her.” – Manchester Evening News on her Hamlet