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Former Coronation St star brings political theatre to Salford

Monday 21 November 2016

A political theatre company featuring former Coronation Street actor Julie Hesmondhalgh gave Salford University performance students an understanding of how to bring events from the news onto the stage.

Take Back Theatre, set up by Julie along with visual artist Grant Archer and writer Rebekah Harrison, held a workshop with final year students on the Performance programmes.

The theatre collective, which has performed in venues such as Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, aims to explore social issues with scripts written in direct response to topical events such as Brexit, as well as issues such as immigration and benefits cuts.

Their Take Back America event held at the Manchester Comedy Store on January 23 – just after Donald Trump’s inauguration – will feature a series of pieces about his Presidential election victory.  

The group held a series of workshop sessions in which they encouraged theatre students to think of ideas for theatrical investigations responding to recent political events, as well as holding a question and answer session.

The visit took place in one of the studio spaces at the University’s £55m New Adelphi Arts Centre – which opened in September as the new home of the School of Arts and Media and also houses a 350 seat theatre with dynamic seating, professional quality TV studios and a series of high-spec performance studios.

The event was part of the Visiting Professionals Series, during which students from the programme benefit from hearing from professional actors, writers and theatre companies, and which last month featured a visit from Salford born Robert Powell, best known for playing the title role in Jesus of Nazareth.

Julie, who has starred in Margaret Edson's play WIT at The Royal Exchange and TV dramas such as Happy Valley and Cucumber as well as playing Hayley Cropper on the ITV soap, said: “Salford now is bobby dazzler – the studio space, the facilities and the people that come in.

“A lot of the performers we work with at Take Back – very well-established Manchester actors doing lots of work on TV – are Salford graduates. They’re very good, solid actors.”

Rebekah Harrison from the group added: “There’s an amazing theatre community here in Manchester and what’s nice about Salford University is that the students get a glimpse of that and find ways in, so when they leave they can pursue that as much as they want.

“For me it was really exciting to see that the students are already very politically engaged and involved in making this kind of work – we had a short discussion with them and I was quite jealous of the ideas they were coming out with!”

Niki Woods from the University of Salford’s School of Arts and Media, said: “The event was about reminding our students that they have a political voice and that theatre can challenge complex issues by telling simple stories. Take Back Theatre encouraged the students to consider the relationship between current social and political events and theatre as a platform for inviting meaningful conversation.

“The visit was a wonderful opportunity for our final year students to talk to Julie, Becx and Grant about making passionate, important work, and it inspired them to think more about how their own final projects can move audiences to think differently.”