There must be scores of people in the entertainment business who’ve left Derbyshire for a career-boosting move in London. But there can hardly be anyone who’s a better ambassador for Derbyshire and Matlock in particular than the stand-up comedian, musician and actress Isy Suttie – and she wasn’t even born in the county.
Two series of her BBC Radio 4 award-winning programme Isy Suttie’s Love Letters were set in Matlock; some of her Edinburgh Fringe shows were also based in the former spa resort; and her first book was about Matlock. “I love it so much and I also love the Peak District,” she enthuses. “I just feel really lucky to have moved to a place with such character and such beauty where lots went on. I can never get away from Matlock – not that I want to.”
Isy chooses her words carefully, thinks before she answers each question and has little trace of an accent. She sounds completely different from her Radio 4 show in which you can’t fail to notice her Derbyshire lilt as she performs sketches with a rapid-fire delivery.
She was back in Derbyshire recently but this time in the south of the county after being cast in the feature film Pin Cushion. It was written and directed by Deborah Haywood who grew up in Swadlincote. Much of it was shot in and around the former mining town. It stars Joanna Scanlan who was in the television comedy series The Thick Of It for seven years and Lily Newmark who has been nominated in the most promising newcomer category at the British Independent Film Awards for her role in the film.
Pin Cushion is the story of a mother and daughter who can’t get away from bullies, and the terrible strain it puts on their relationship.
Isy plays Ann, the leader of a community centre “friendship” group who lacks the confidence to stand up to the bullies. She admits the film is hard to watch. “I’m really proud to have been involved in it. It doesn’t pull any punches in terms of exploring bullying. It’s really funny as well. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything. I think the way it’s filmed is quite fairy tale-like and in a way that softens what it’s exploring.”
Although the film is difficult to watch, Isy didn’t find it hard to act in. “When I initially read the script I thought it was brilliant writing. “Once we came to film it, I was so into the scenes that I didn’t think about how the character might come across as not very nice. I just enjoyed doing it.” She also revelled in being back in Derbyshire. “It was funny because Deborah knew so many people. When we were filming in the town centre her mum’s mates kept coming up and saying hello. “It was lovely to be in quite a small community with no frills.
It was a low-budget British film so we didn’t have dressing rooms or trailers. We were all in a hall so we hung out and chatted. It felt really nice. No one could have any airs and graces.”
Isy has appeared in a couple of short films but Pin Cushion was a new experience. “I’m so pleased that this film was my first feature because Deborah is such a talented person and a natural filmmaker who follows her instincts. It’s a very bold film and I feel really lucky to have been involved in it. I absolutely loved doing it.”
Isobel Jane Suttie was born on 11 August 1978 in Hull. Her English mother and Scottish father moved to Matlock when Isy was six. About five years later she wanted to learn the saxophone – “at that time there were a lot of songs in the charts with saxophone solos in them” – but her mother thought she wouldn’t stick at it, so she bought Isy a guitar. She started writing songs almost immediately but it wasn’t until 2003, after she had trained as an actress at the Guildford School of Acting, that she included the songs when she began performing stand-up.
Her breakthrough year
She was nominated for best female newcomer at the British Comedy Awards and was cast as IT technician Dobby in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show which starred David Mitchell and Robert Webb. She appeared in five series of the show until it finished in 2015 and remembers it with affection.
“I’d done a bit of telly before that but not much. People have got really fond memories of Peep Show. I feel lucky that that was the first show I was a regular in. I think the writing was so brilliant.”
Since then she’s appeared in dramas such as Holby City and Shameless as well as guesting on panel games including Would I Lie To You?, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, QI and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
So does she prefer film, television, radio or stand-up?
“I like the variety. I quite like mixing it up really. I feel lucky that I get to do lots of different stuff.”
Two years ago she wrote her first book, The Actual One: How I Tried, And Failed, To Remain Twenty-Something For Ever. It outlines how a bet with her mother resulted in a mad scramble to find a boyfriend within a month. Now she’s writing her first novel which is due out next year, although she’s struggling with the discipline of writing a certain number of words each day.
“I can’t believe how long it takes to write a novel. I’m absolutely in awe of anyone who finishes one.”
Nearly four years ago Isy, whose partner is Welsh comedian Elis James, gave birth to daughter Beti. That meant stand-up came off second best. “I found it quite hard to leave the house at night when she was going to bed. So I just naturally pulled back a bit but I definitely will do more stand-up in the future.”
She has no plans to try to make it big in Hollywood although that might have been a possibility a few years ago: “I quite like taking my daughter to the park and seeing all my mates. I think I’ll probably stick to Britain now! I quite like coming home and reading to my daughter.”
As for the future, Isy is hoping to do another film similar to Pin Cushion: “I really like how gritty British films can be. “I’ve always loved that style where it’s really funny and heart-breaking at the same time, that down-to-earth humour with something rooted in reality.”
She’s also a fan of improvisation. Some of the scenes in Pin Cushion weren’t scripted which made the film “more playful and natural”. She’s hoping two of the greatest names in British cinema have taken notice: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh who she really admires.
“So if you’re reading this, Mike, give us a call. I’ll put the novel on hold for you.”