Alma’s Not Normal


Series Overview
We meet Alma – whose tumultuous childhood has led to continual chaos – as she embarks on a new beginning after a break-up, inspiring her to finally get herself sorted. And she’s not going to be just ‘okay’… she’s going to be fabulous!

With a rebellious streak a mile wide and no qualifications to boot, Alma decides to explore the role of an escort to support her dreams of being a star. Many adventures and misadventures ensue as she navigates the past she’s had and the future she wants.

Meanwhile, and she is trying to get her family back together. She has her work cut out as she tries to fix the strained relationships between her drug-addicted mum and her vampish Grandma, Joan. Alma’s mum Lin, with bright pink hair, a toothless gurn and a children’s lunchbox she fashions as a handbag, battles her long-term drug addiction with the same angst and disorder that she does her mother, Joan.

Expect a bitingly funny and unflinching take on issues from class, sexuality, motherhood, friendship, abuse and mental health, in a series that is full of heart, humour and candour, celebrating powerful and complex women dealing with the hand they were dealt whilst doggedly pursuing their dreams.

How did Alma’s Not Normal come to BBC Two?

In 2018 I won the BBC’s Caroline Aherne Bursary, where I was able to get into a room with former commissioners Shane Allen and Kate Daughton and tell them all about the sitcom I’d been planning and plotting in my head for years. I developed the script with Expectation over 18 months and then put on a live read-through for the BBC’s Patrick Holland. It was an anarchic do; a lot of shouting, singing, swearing and twerking… all with Patrick on the front row… he loved it. We got an on the spot commission to film it!

Turning your script into a pilot for BBC Two culminated in a Bafta for Best Writer – what an outcome!

I wasn’t expecting to be nominated and I was really shocked to have won. I was away filming Alma so I was staying on a farmyard, and wearing a sequin dress, watching the ceremony on a laptop. When I found out, I ran around for about five minutes because I wasn’t expecting to win. My friend and co-star Jayde Adams took a video of it that was so barmy it went viral!

My grandma was a big influence in my life and had always encouraged me to write she passed away the night I got nominated for the Bafta and it was a month to the very minute that I actually won my Bafta – so that moment felt very much in the spirit of Grandma. She was my foster parent and she had always been a very big encourager of me to be a writer and performer, so it felt quite a special thing really.

The series is very funny – have you always laughed through the dark times, and is comedy how you naturally deal with reality?

Definitely, I come from a very funny family, and I think that’s how all of us have survived really. There’s been a lot of trauma, not just my life but generally, and we have a laugh in the tough times.

This seems to be one of the first television series where a care leaver has been represented…

Yes, I don’t think there’s ever been a storyline of a care-experienced person in a comedy. And when we are on screen it’s very rarely positive. As someone who’s personally been through the system and had my own records back, telling this story with honesty, humour, optimism and love was extremely important to me. Obviously everybody’s care-experience is different, but the episode where this is explored is kind of my love letter to Care Experienced folk.

The fact that there is a strong, dynamic character at the heart of it the series must have been important?

And flawed. I think, that’s the inspiring part of the series, that Alma is OK, but she is flawed and that is OK. There will always be things that you’ll struggle with, everyone does. But the thing I like about Alma is the depiction is real – she is actually optimistic; she is positive, and she is going to be alright, but she is going to mess up too. She will make weird choices; she will struggle and that’s OK – you don’t have to be all or nothing.

Your female co-stars, they are superb. What were they like to work with?

All the women cast are so passionate about the show – I feel really, really proud to have such a lovely group of people who have been wonderful, kind and supportive. Lorraine (Ashbourne), Shiv (Siobhan Finneran) and Jayde (Adams) are the absolute best co-stars; such incredible actors who all something completely original and unique – they’re all strong, powerful, female performers and yet none of them are similar to each other.

You are a writer, performer as well as one of the executive producers on the series. How did you feel balancing all those roles?

It’s really exciting to be able to be all over something and to be given such creative control. Nerys Evans at Expectation, Gill Isles and Andrew Chaplin, and with the BBC, the whole team have enabled me to be all over everything and it’s not often that you get that opportunity, so I feel really grateful.

The costumes Alma wears are just brilliant. How much influence did you have on that?

I put a couple things in the first episode’s script such as ‘pink fur coat’ and Daniella Pearman the Costume Designer, just ran with it. She’s incredible, I think she is amazing. Between her, the DOP (Nathaniel Hill) and the director Andrew Chaplin, they have made it ‘pop’ amazingly on screen. The amount of precision and thought put into the costumes was fantastic; each mood of Alma has a slightly different look, and every character has their own colours. Daniella is really smart with it, and it makes it really fun but really clever.

How important was music in the series?

I’m passionate about music on screen, and for me, particularly, I wanted to push as much as possible a female soundtrack with female leads. A lot of punk, riot girl sounds and just music that I felt was a bit different and represented Alma. When I was on the pilot, I put that list together myself, with some support from Chappers [Andrew Chaplin]. this time we have had the music supervisor, Karen Spearing, who has been great, and Chappers has been more involved with the music as well. Between the three of us, we have put together quite an exciting soundtrack.

What do you hope audiences will take away from Alma’s Not Normal?

Well, I hope they find it funny, that’s the first and foremost. I hope that it’s uplifting and optimistic whilst also connecting in its more difficult moments.

You offered internships and possibilities to young care-experienced people as part of the production. Can you tell us about this?

I’ve always done a lot of work with care-experienced people. I have a charity called Stories Of Care, where we work with care- experienced people, we publish books with them and do creative schemes with them and professional development. On every project I’ve ever done I have some scheme going on, so it feels fitting to be the same with the TV series.

We set up a training scheme with Gill Isles, Expectation, and the BBC, for care-experienced people to work in different departments, either production office, or costume departments, runners on the floor. So they get paid experience in TV which can lead onto other roles in the industry. One of our trainees went straight onto a second job in telly after doing so brilliantly on Alma.
How would you describe Alma’s Not Normal?

The series is utterly fabulous! Sophie has managed to write something that is hilarious and also really, really touching. She’s balanced the comedy and the drama so beautifully in this and I already know people are really excited about it. The pilot was so successful and I really think people are just going to love this whole series. It’s very character driven – there are four really strong female leads in it, and it’s spectacular.

Can you tell us a bit about your character Leanne and what you most admire about her?

Well Leanne and I are quite similar really! Sophie and I are friends in real life, we’ve known each other for over 10 years. Leanne is like myself had I not left waitressing, she doesn’t take any rubbish from anyone, she’s straight talking and a real anchor for Alma. Alma’s all over the place!

Alma’s got an incredibly good heart she just puts it in the wrong places at times, so Leanne is a force of reason. Also, what’s quite interesting over the series is that Leanne can be quite judgemental. Their friendship gets tested by Alma’s decisions over the course of the series, but they’ve a really beautiful friendship.

What attracted you to the script and that friendship between Alma and Leanne?

It really helped when Sophie said, “Hey, I’ve written a role and I think it’s for you!” She wrote it with me in mind, which has never happened before in my career. I’ve acted in stuff before but this is the first series I’ve got where she’s written it with me in mind, so it’s been a pleasure to play Leanne. And given I’m the straight guy in this too as Alma flies all over the place, it’s an absolute honour.

The pilot has had fantastic success, winning a Bafta, etc, what do you think resonated so much with viewers?

Sophie has really earned everything she’s achieved – she’s not been handed anything on a plate and that’s very relevant for the character of Alma as well. She has to work really hard to achieve the things she wants to. I think that’s what’s resonating with people, especially working-class women up and down the country that don’t know where to put themselves.

Alma’s character is very relatable, and I think that’s what surprised people. I think what resonates is her vulnerability, strength, humour – and also the soundtrack is super cool, the costume design is incredible and what Sophie has done is created an incredibly relatable working-class comedy series that is also very modern.

Do you have any standout memories from filming?

I can’t say too much, but there is an episode with fish which everyone should look out for! It was an utter joy to film; it was the last scene I filmed before I wrapped. There are some real iconic moments with Alma and Leanne that involve music, fashion, confidence and a genuine friendship as well.

What do you hope the series will bring to viewers?

I think the most inspirational thing is that Sophie is showing that anyone that has been raised in care that they can do it as well. I hope it opens up the television industry as well, as there’s a massive pool of talent in that world as everyone has an incredible back story.

Interview with Siobhan Finneran

Siobhan Finneran plays Lin
Can you tell us a bit about your character Lin, and what attracted you to the script?

Lin is Alma’s mother, who is in a psychiatric unit at the start of the series. I think she’s rather fabulous, but people may have different opinions of how she is! I was attracted to the script because I loved Sophie’s writing. I absolutely loved the script and everything about it – I think Sophie’s a bloody genius and that’s usually how I go with jobs. If the script appeals to me, regardless of how much my character’s involved, if the script is good, I want to be a part of it.

Can you tell us about the process behind creating the character?

I had to find my own way to do it, but with great help from Sophie. We really settled on the fact that even though Lin is a fully-grown woman she’s very very childish a lot of the time, and I liked the thought of that, and I loved the thought of being able to play that. Like a toddler doesn’t really have an edit button, Lin can’t edit herself at all and what you get is completely honest which can come across as being very harsh at the time, but she’s not going to excuse any of her behaviour as it is what it is to her and she’s got no filter. She’s the queen of oversharing! A lot of stuff she says is really spot on.

This is a lady who has been a drug addict and a drinker for a huge part of her life, so her brain is maybe not functioning as well as it would have done had she gone down a different path. The fact that she’s still creative and still wants to do her art and all of those things, sometimes the results of that doesn’t thrill everyone – especially her mother!

The pilot has had fantastic success, winning a Bafta etc, what do you think resonated so much with viewers?

I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it. I think Sophie’s wit is razor sharp and the series is full of wonderful characters that make you laugh. And the character of Alma… one minute you’re falling about laughing as she’s up doing Spice Girls karaoke and within minutes your heart is breaking for her. You want her to succeed – she’s the heroine of the piece. We’re on that journey with her and she’s got an absolute heart of gold. With the family, they’re not bad human beings, and even her boyfriend, who is sort of the villain of the piece, makes me laugh.

Do you have any standout memories from filming?

We really laughed doing the Zumba class scene. Most days I was laughing just because of what other people were doing. I could barely look at Lorraine Ashbourne sometimes because her lines are just absolutely brilliant. It was a very enjoyable job – it was just a joy to go to work! I loved the costume design on it, it was an absolute treat of a job.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the first episode yet, how would you describe Alma’s Not Normal?

If you want to go on a wonderful rollercoaster ride of fun, that’s what you’re going to do but you’ll be doing it with Alma and cheering her on and putting your head in your hands throughout it! It’s also got a real heart to it, so it’s not gag after gag. You can get involved and care about the characters. You’ll love Alma and want her to do well and won’t want her to be hurt, upset or fail but you’ll be quite happy to watch her doing a bit of that as well because it makes the successes all the more wonderful. It’s Alma’s resilience and determination that keeps her going, and will keep you watching.

Can you tell us a bit about your character and what attracted you to the script?

I play Anthony, who is Alma’s on-again off-again boyfriend who is sort of charming but very manipulative. He comes into Alma’s life when she’s at her lowest and picks her up, but it’s all sort of self-serving! I worked with Sophie on Still Open All Hours and while we were filming that she did the read through of the pilot. Some time passed and then my agent got in touch to say I had a casting for the show!

The pilot has had fantastic success, winning a Bafta etc, what do you think resonated so much with viewers?

It’s Sophie at the helm of it. Her writing is honest and true and funny and the show is very accessible for a lot of people. All of characters are very rich, Sophie has a real talent for writing well-rounded characters and it’s female-led and they’re all strong, interesting female characters, which I don’t think we see enough of on TV.

You can’t help but fall in love with Alma and you sort of root for her the moment that you meet her and get to know her eccentricities.

Do you have any standout memories from filming?

The first week I filmed in Manchester and the rest was in Bolton, which I know quite well. There’s a famous pastie shop there which is an institution – if you’re in Bolton for longer than an hour and you haven’t had one, something is wrong! We shot a scene where we were eating pasties, and at first I was really buzzing about it, then I got to about nine and the salt sucked every bit of moisture in my body and I was walking around like a raisin!

There was such a good atmosphere and vibe on set, and everyone recognised that they were working on something that could potentially be really special.

How would you describe Alma’s Not Normal?

It’s just a whirlwind of a show, and Alma as a character is a whirlwind! It’s hilarious and unique. The situations and environments she puts herself in, it’s not something you’ll have seen before on TV. Alma wears very ostentatious clothes which is always good to see, and the tunes have been picked very well by Sophie!

Although the characters go through a lot, humour is really at the heart of this series isn’t it?

Some of the topics dealt with in the script are quite harrowing, but Sophie has a real ability to take that and make it hilarious, which is a proper skill. That’s something I was trying to judge correctly, as Anthony is manipulative and abusive. What was written was funny, so it was important to find the line between it being honest and real and also funny.

Can you tell us a bit about your character and what attracted you to the script?

Jim is a very kind and loving toothless schizophrenic. He’s got multiple personalities, but the bottom line is that he and Lin are very together and very happy and sort of prop each other up. Who knows whether they’d be alive without each other! He’s a very quiet, lovely man really with many personalities and that’s what attracted me to the role. I think in the pilot he has four lines but he’s very much a presence there. It’s a really beautiful part to play and also to be surrounded by all those incredible women.

The pilot has had fantastic success, winning a Bafta, etc, what do you think resonated so much with people?

It’s real. All the characters may seem fantastical but they’re real actually and that’s the exciting, wonderful and scary thing about it. The great thing that Sophie’s managed to do is create a script that’s very Northern but also very accessible to everyone.

Do you have any standout memories from filming?

Where do I start? Every one of them. For me the scenes that I loved were in Joan’s living room in the house. You’ll find as you watch them it cuts back us just trying to exist, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, like any family. Some of those scenes I just loved filming and we laughed and laughed. It was a very joyous set the whole thing, so to pick out one scene would be crazy really! Even though we’re talking about very serious issues in the series such as heroin addiction, prostitution, a child going in and out of care and the role of women over the last 60 years. These are big things going on yet it’s joyous, funny and warm and that’s the success of it for me.

Interview with Andrew Chaplin (Director)
How collaborative is the process making a show with a writer/ performer? Are there any challenges for a director?

It’s a hugely collaborative process, and one which requires a great deal of trust between you both. It’s obviously quite a weird experience to say to someone, “this is what you’ve written, and this is how I see it”, but thankfully Sophie’s and my creative thoughts and wants for the show have been aligned from the beginning. So, it’s been a genuine pleasure to mould the show together from the pilot into the series we have today.

Was it a complex show to shoot?

Very complex! There were multiple locations, a timeline spanning decades and three different ages of Alma, so there was lots to think about. Oh and a schedule that was very tight for the time we had, with Covid-19 restrictions on top of that!

You worked on the pilot as well as the series, was there anything you learnt from the pilot process that influenced how you directed the series?

We learned that the post-production stage is the final iteration of the script. An episode often changes in the edit from what is on the page, so I knew that when filming it I had to be quite flexible, knowing that scenes may well move with new voiceover added, which influenced the way I shot things for sure.

About the author

Olivia Wilson
By Olivia Wilson


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