Julie Hesmondhalgh: A Working Diary
Following in the Methuen Drama Theatre Makers Series footsteps of Joan Littlewood and Simon Stephens, Julie Hesmondhalgh, who is still best known for her long stint in Coronation Street, offers something quite different.
Anyone stereotyping performers in soaps will have quite a surprise when they read this sometimes intimate, always chatty diary. The style may be laid-back but the lady certainly isn’t.
Across a year commencing at the beginning of November 2016, we get the opportunity to follow her down innumerable unlikely trails.
Now in her mid-40s, from one perspective, Miss Hesmondhalgh is a mum of two daughters, one of whom has also got the acting bug.
Her elder daughter Martha also becomes an integral part of the story when she unwittingly finds herself close to the centre of news headlines having innocently gone for night out in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert that ended in carnage.
There are also oblique references to the diarist’s major TV appearances in both Coronation Street and Broadchurch, not to mention radio work and a TV ad that led to some ethical agonising, all of which help to pay the bills and underpin ventures that the actress / producer / writer regards as much more serious.
To describe the Lancastrian as a political animal is understating the case. A proud, card-carrying member of the Labour Party who worships the ground on which Jeremy Corbyn walks, one of the highlights of her year was an opportunity to play warm-up to the great man in the lead-up to a general election that turned out to be an unexpected source of relief and hope.
Her politics are also the motivation for so much of the theatre work. The major projects, none of which was likely to make anyone rich, were largely under the banner of Take Back, a small company that specialises in creating either themed programmes of short plays or taking part in events.
A further string to her bow is work in the theatre, particularly in concert with husband Ian Kershaw (Kersh), who is now primarily a writer and penned a solo show for his Mrs that we follow from inception through to the first production, The Greatest Play in the History of the World.
At every opportunity, Julie Hesmondhalgh would seek to promote equality in any way possible. She’s a great champion of those who are disadvantaged for example as a result of physical disability, prejudice against minorities or through background or educational limitation.
Occasionally, reading yet another paean of praise to those in the community who try hard with limited talent or colleagues who have attempted a project that has not necessarily come off, the enthusiasm can become a little repetitive but overall, following in the footsteps of a great champion of underdogs who believes in every cause that she follows is uplifting.
A Working Diary is a real page-turner and eye-opener that will give readers a glimpse of the eclectic life that one working actress / producer has led in order to make ends meet but also make a difference.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher