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Book Review Engaging insights into the life and times of a radical actor and activist

A Working Diary
by Julie Hesmondhalgh
(Methuen Drama, £18.99)

THIS book is actor, broadcaster and political activist Julie Hesmondhalgh’s account of 12 months in her working life.

And what a year it turned out to be. It starts in November 2016 and in the following period, Donald Trump captured the White House and, confounding all the pundits, there was a general election which we were told would consign Jeremy Corbyn to oblivion.

Hesmondhalgh writes about the pride she felt at being asked to address a huge rally in his support during the campaign.

She begins the diary by reflecting on the opportunities afforded to her as a young student at Accrington College, where she was one of five of her cohort who won places at LAMDA drama school, at a time when the state recognised the importance of higher education and the arts and when students like Hesmondhalgh had their fees paid by the state and received a full grant.

Now, she laments, we have a government which saddles young people with huge student debt and decries arts courses for being the soft option.

It is this attitude, Hesmondhalgh argues, which creates an elite view of the arts, one purely for the rich. Today working-class kids from Lancashire will struggle to follow her into the arts world.

Typical of her selfless nature, all royalties from the book are going to Art Emergency, an organisation dedicated to helping young working-class kids get a foothold in the arts world.

Apart from the many political causes she championed throughout the year, it is her passion for theatre and drama that shines through this often funny, sometimes sad and always interesting diary.

It is obvious that, despite 16 years in Coronation Street, she never rests on her laurels and is always keen to learn in a business that is rapidly changing.

Her account of the emotionally charged double-hander with Lemn Sissay at the Royal Court theatre in London makes for harrowing reading.

Hesmondhalgh sits behind a table reading a psychologist’s report into the years of abuse suffered by Sissay in the care system while he listens and the audience watch his reaction.

Another moving episode is her coverage of the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing and it’s not just her love for the great city that makes her story so affecting.

She also felt the horror as a mother whose daughter had gone out that evening full of life and excitement at the prospect of seeing Ariana Grande, only to have that joy shattered by a bomb. Her daughter was thankfully uninjured but the events changed the family and the city for ever.

This is a tremendous account, told with great humour, and gives a real insight into theatre and a committed wonderful actor and human being.

If you want a rollicking good read, learn what life is like for a busy, committed actor and political activist then buy this book and you’ll help keep access to the arts open to working class and low-income youngsters.


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