Julie Hesmondhalgh: Actress wins award double for theatre and politics

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

Image source, Jonathan Keenan
Image caption,
Julie Hesmondhalgh played an American professor with cancer in Wit

TV and stage actress Julie Hesmondhalgh has been honoured with two theatre awards - one for her acting and one for launching a political theatre company.

The Coronation Street and Broadchurch star was named best actress at the Manchester Theatre Awards for playing a professor with cancer in the drama Wit.

And her theatre collective Take Back Theatre received a special award.

Hesmondhalgh co-founded Take Back Theatre in 2015 "as an artistic response to the politics of austerity".

It stages performances of short scripts written rapidly in response to current events, with titles like Take Back: America, Take Back: Hope and Ten Takes on Capital.

Image source, Colin Hutton/ITV
Image caption,
Julie Hesmondhalgh plays rape victim Trish in Broadchurch

"It's absolutely amazing," said Hesmondhalgh, who made her name as Hayley in Coronation Street and is currently on screen playing Trish in Broadchurch.

"I feel like it's a real boost to us and the kind of theatre that we're making."

Take Back Theatre, which she runs with writer Becx Harrison and artist Grant Archer, received the Stage Door award for excellence.

Who are they trying to take back theatre from? "From the elite, I suppose," she told BBC News.

"We wanted to create something grassroots, where we weren't dependent on funding or people giving us a lot of money. We started off in the Central Methodist Hall and then we were in a room above a pub and packed it out.

"'Taking back' I think is from maybe what you imagine theatre to be and to be about. Taking back control."

Image source, Richard Davenport
Image caption,
Daniel Rigby won best actor for playing Alan Turing

Elsewhere, Bafta winner Daniel Rigby was named best actor for playing Alan Turing, the wartime code-breaker who was convicted and chemically castrated for having a gay relationship and died two years later.

Rigby, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, said: "It's really thrilling to win it in my homeland - that means an awful lot, to win something in Manchester.

"And for playing Alan Turing as well - it felt like quite a timely production and it felt like the issues he faced, we're still sorting through politically now."

Rigby dedicated his award to the AB Academy Theatre School in Stockport, which gave him a scholarship at the age of 14 because his parents couldn't afford the fees.

His play Breaking the Code, which was staged at the Royal Exchange theatre, was also named best production.

The Royal Exchange completed a clean sweep of the main categories, picking up 10 awards in total.

And there was an acting award for Kenneth Branagh's sister Joyce - who won best fringe performance for Boomtown Gals, about how life changed for women during World War One.

The Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full:

  • Best actress - Julie Hesmondhalgh, Wit, Royal Exchange
  • Best actor - Daniel Rigby, Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange
  • Best production - Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange
  • Best supporting actress - Natalie Dew, Breaking The Code, Royal Exchange
  • Best supporting actor - Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange
  • Best actor in a visiting production - Rufus Hound, The Wind in the Willows, The Lowry
  • Best actress in a visiting production - Aoife Duffin, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, The Lowry
  • Best visiting production - The James Plays, The Lowry
  • Best newcomer - Norah Lopez Holden, Ghosts, Home
  • Best opera - Andrea Chenier, Opera North, The Lowry
  • The Robert Robson Award for best dance - Akram Khan's Giselle, Palace
  • Best musical - Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange
  • Best fringe production - The Trial, Hope Mill Theatre
  • Best fringe performance - Joyce Branagh, Boomtown Gals, Various venues
  • Best studio production - Wish List, Royal Exchange
  • Best actor in a studio production - Joseph Quinn, Wish List, Royal Exchange Studio
  • Best actress in a studio production - Erin Doherty, Wish List, Royal Exchange Studio
  • Best new play - The Emperor, Home
  • Best design - Singin' In The Rain, Octagon Theatre
  • Best ensemble - Singin' In The Rain, Octagon Theatre
  • Best special entertainment - The Peony Pavillion, Lowry
  • Young newcomers - Samuel Torpey, Henry Farmer, Bradley Mayfield and Elliot Stiff - Billy Elliot, Palace; and Jasmine de Goede and Lucy Doyle Ryder - To Kill A Mockingbird, Octagon Theatre
  • Youth panel award - Nothing, The Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company
  • Stage Door Award for excellence - Becx Harrison, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Grant Archer of Take Back Theatre
  • Special achievement award - Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre
  • Special achievement award - Philip Radcliffe, theatre critic

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