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Julie Hesmondhalgh: An interview with Amanda Dalton

    Saturday 28th October 2023 • Hebden Bridge Town Hall • 7:30pm


    How it went – write up by Roger Gill

    Have you ever spent an evening with a generous, open-minded, inspirational, and infectiously funny person, who made you feel positive about yourself and the world around you – even in these dire times?

    A Lit&Sci full-house audience did just that, last Saturday at the Hebden Bridge Town Hall when Julie Hesmondhalgh lifted our spirits while being interviewed so adeptly by Amanda Dalton.

    No warm-up comedian could ever have grabbed our attention like Julie did. As she trotted in, weeping with laughter, she regaled us with the story of her being caught in a mighty burst of rain and having had to dry off her trousers and knickers under the hand-dryer in the Town Hall toilets. This was a masterclass in how to win over your audience  – all done with a spluttering reference to wee, knickers and pelvic floors.

    We were putty in her hands. There were waves of empathy flowing between us and Julie. Amanda’s on-point questions and references to Julie’s new book, An Actor’s Alphabet,  provided a structure for what followed. We lapped up her tales about Hayley in Corrie, her charity 500 Acts of Kindness (to which she donated her fee for the event), and her life growing up in Accrington.

    As the chat on the stage developed, it became obvious that Julie’s childhood in a broad-minded, inclusive, and religious household gave her a generous spirit and an evangelical drive, albeit now with a bias towards political evangelism. A fervour that guides her acting, choice of roles and the strong belief that ordinary lives can be changed by active kindness.

    The adverts for this event promised gossip, laughter, and indiscretion. We enjoyed these three elements, over and over again. What wasn’t on the poster was her soul being laid bare, of her understanding of how, in her acting, she can plumb the depths of a character and leave any personal emotional backwash at the stage door. In that way, she believes she can pay due respect to the lives of the, sometimes real, people being portrayed. It’s not about her, but about them. She pinpointed this serious side of her life as an actor with the beautiful account of her role, as Sophie’s mother in Simon Armitage’s Black Roses – the docu-drama about the murder of Sophie Lancaster. The audience went quiet in reflection and admiration.

    The evening turned us into diabolos being tossed up and down deftly by Julie and Amanda. One minute we were soaring high with the funny tales of actors corpsing on stage and then we were plunging low, in deep thought, when we heard of the social injustices that her charities and Take Back (her drama company) are trying to tackle.

    The final feeling, as we applauded, hooted, and whistled, was one of hope in a dark world where individuals with a kind, generous spirit can and do make a difference. In Julie’s particular case, her very long list of activism and fundraising ventures, and of course her acting, are all a testament to her passion for making a difference.

    An evening of chat, and perhaps some readings, as Amanda and Julie talk all things creative: from how the arts can shape the way we see the world to how we can help young people better access culture, from mental health to growing older in an industry that traditionally ignores women over a certain age. How to navigate imposter syndrome and stay creative and engaged, as well as how to learn lines and what it’s like playing a character for 16 years! There will be gossip, laughter and a healthy dollop of indiscretion we promise.

    Julie is an actor, writer and activist, best known for her 16 year stint in Coronation Street as Hayley Cropper, and her subsequent work in theatre, in TV (Broadchurch, Happy Valley, Inside No 9, Doctor Who, The Pact and the soon to be screened Mr Bates vs the Post Office for ITV) and as a regular voice on Radio 4.  She has written two books: A Working Diary and most recently, An Actor’s Alphabet (an A-Z of Stuff I’ve Learnt and Stuff I’m Still Learning): part memoir, part advice book, part exploration of how the cultural industries have shaped the world, and covering topics from access to class to jealousy, from imposter syndrome to body image to growing old, from process to staying mentally well.

    Julie co-runs the political theatre collective, Take Back, in Manchester, and the fundraising group 500 Acts of Kindness.