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Thursday, 2 November 2023

Lit and Sci

Report: An Evening with Julie Hesmondhalgh

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, 28 October, 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.

Many thanks to Roger Gill for this report





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