Downton star back in the kitchen

Undated ITV Handout Photo from Downton Abbey. Pictured: LESLEY NICOL as Mrs Patmore and SOPHIE McSHERA as Daisy. See PA Feature TV Christmas Downton Abbey. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/ITV. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TV Christmas Downton Abbey. This photograph is (C) CARNIVAL FILMS and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or CARNIVAL FILMS. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic  cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk.  This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of
Undated ITV Handout Photo from Downton Abbey. Pictured: LESLEY NICOL as Mrs Patmore and SOPHIE McSHERA as Daisy. See PA Feature TV Christmas Downton Abbey. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/ITV. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TV Christmas Downton Abbey. This photograph is (C) CARNIVAL FILMS and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or CARNIVAL FILMS. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of

Lesley Nicol, who found fame as Mrs Patmore the cook on Downton Abbey, finds herself in a Yorkshire kitchen again in The York Realist which arrives at the Crucible Theatre next week.

Peter Gill’s play, a co-production with the Donmar in London where it opened to enthusiastic reviews, is set in a remote North Yorkshire farmhouse in the 1960s. It centres on two young men who fall in love and must contend with rival forces of family, class and ambition.

THE YORK REALIST '   , Writer - Peter Gill, Director - Robert Hastie, Designer - Peter McKintosh, The Donmar Warehouse, Sheffield Crucible,2018, Credit: Johan Persson/''Lesley Nicol

THE YORK REALIST ' , Writer - Peter Gill, Director - Robert Hastie, Designer - Peter McKintosh, The Donmar Warehouse, Sheffield Crucible,2018, Credit: Johan Persson/''Lesley Nicol

“I play the mother of the farmer {played by Ben Batt} who forms a relationship with a man {Jonathan Bailey} who has come up to do the York Mystery Plays,” explains Lesley Nicol.

“It’s interesting about how that relationship would work at that time, the Sixties, and that’s important. But you see how the family responds to it. It is a beautiful play, probably the most beautiful I have ever been in, and it’s funny and very touching.

“It is all set in the farmhouse and there is a bit of kitchen business going on, but they don’t get me cooking. There’s a lot of tea drunk.”

Cooking is not her forte, she admits, though she worked out how to disguise that on screen. “What I figured out quite early on was in order to convince people you are doing things properly is to remember a couple of things,” she says. “One is, don’t do anything technical and that includes rolling pastry. And I did things that chefs do, I worked very fast , I garnished stuff and I tasted stuff and I shouted a lot, all the things Gordon Ramsey does.”

It’s probably the most beautiful play I have ever been in

She says when she first read the script she was struck how “ very cross and stroppy” her character was.

“All she seemed to be doing was shouting and baking and as an actor you have to look and go, well nobody’s just like that, you have to figure out why.

“Is she just horrible or is she under stress and strain? And it turns out she is because of her position where the stakes are very high.

“You can’t serve cold food or lumpy sauce or you would be out of a job. And that’s why she got ratty and the youngsters got shouted at and I think she was fond of Daisy {the kitchen maid played by Sophie McShera} and she wanted her to be the best and to make sure she had a future.”

Because of the success of Downton Abbey in the States she was encouraged to go to LA to try out for work and has had a home there ever since.

“I did TV and I do quite a lot of cartoons,” she reports. “I do voices for Goldie and Bear, Tom and Jerry. I do one over here called Sarah and Duck but it’s more over there, I don’t know why.”

She had a part especially written for her in comedy-drama series The Catch “It was the exact opposite of Mrs Patmore. She’s a psychotic cow and she’s posh, well not posh, but she’s the head of a gangland firm. It ran for two seasons. That was exciting to do something so different.”

Nicol is also developing a one-woman “semi-autobiographical” show, How The Hell Did I Get Here?, with American song-writer Mark Mueller. “I gave it a trial here at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for friends and family and I did a fund-raiser for a charity I support, Animals Asia, rescuing moonbears in China,” With 160 million viewers to Downton in China her profile was able to help the cause. She also supports an English charity called Medical Detection Dogs where canines are trained to detect disorders in humans.

She’s an experienced musical theatre performer, having been in the original Mamma Mia cast in the West End, and now by day in London she has been rehearsing for a production of Annie in Toronto.

“As soon as I finish in Sheffield I will go home to LA for three days and then be in Toronto for seven weeks.”

California is home because that’s where her husband, spiritual practitioner David Keith, and three dogs reside. “We live a very simple life, people think it is all very glamorous and showbizzy. My favourite thing is to walk my dogs on the beach, go whale watching, have hummingbirds in the garden, that sort of thing, the sunshine. I wouldn’t go anywhere just for the weather, it would have to be more than that.”

This is her first stage appearance for eight years. “When it was suggested to me I was thrilled with the part and to be at the Donmar and Sheffield was the cherry on the cake really. It will be really interesting to do it in Yorkshire. It will be different.”

She grew up in Earlham, outside Manchester, but knows Sheffield from the Eighties, appearing at the Crucible in Canterbury Tales directed by Stephen Daldry and also Alan Bleasdale’s It’s a Madhouse with Bobby Knutt.

“I have made a living for 40-odd years and am pretty proud of that but efore Downton I wasn’t a household name,” she reflects. “What I love about all that is people telling me you can’t get parts after you’re 45 and I am very happy to stand up and say I got the best part in the world when I was fifty something so don’t listen to that. And I met my husband late in life . Don’t ever think you are too old to fall in love with someone or make something of your life .”

The York Realist is at the Crucible from March 27 to April 7.