HAVING found TV fame at the age of 11, Shameless and Waterloo Road star Rebecca Ryan has grown up in the limelight.
Still only 22, the Manchester lass can be seen at Derby Theatre from Tuesday starring in a new adaptation of the classic late 1950s play A Taste of Honey, where she will no doubt get a chance to meet fans of her TV shows. But being recognised in the street by the public at large is the one thing she’s still not got used to about a career in showbusiness that started as she entered secondary school.
She says: “Im not sure I ever will get used to people coming up and saying ‘You are that girl from Shameless or Waterloo Road.’ I have had it since I was 11 but even now, at 22, I can’t get used to it. It’s quite odd.
“But having started so young I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now other than acting.”
Set in Salford in 1959, A Taste of Honey is the story of 17-year-old Jo, who is desperate to break free from her vulgar, man-hunting mother Helen. Jo falls in love with Jimmy, a black sailor on shore leave. Abandoned by her mother and left to cope on her own, Jo’s courage is tested when Jimmy returns to sea, and she discovers she’s pregnant.
Rebecca took on the role of Jo for the first time last year in Edinburgh and fell in love with the story.
“It’s a fantastic play,” she says. “I loved every minute of it so I had no hesitation to audition again for it when this came up. The way it was done in Edinburgh is completely different. It has helped me in terms of learning the lines but I always wanted to find something new this time, you never stop doing that as long as you live with the characters. I’m always learning and trying to improve. That will never stop.”
Despite being written in the late 1950s, when there was a greater stigma attached to teenage pregnancies, Rebecca says A Taste of Honey still speaks to the younger generation today.
“It’s not as big a deal as it was in the 1950s to be in that situation but it’s still there in certain places and cultures, so it’s very relevant to people of all ages.
“We did a workshop with some teen mums and they felt very connected with what we are doing.
“I think people are less homophobic generally now than they are in the play but there are still people who don’t accept it. It’s unfortunate but these things will always be there.
“The play is set not far from where I grew up so I can get right into the roots of it and I know exactly what they are talking about. Although my experiece is very different from Jo’s. I had a lovely upbringing, a really supportive family.”
This is a co-production for Derby Theatre with Hull Truck, with Mark Babych in the director’s chair.
Rebecca says: “Mark has some great ideas and ways of putting a show together. Hull Truck have a great reputation so it’s a real opportunity for me,”
Rebecca is best known as Debbie Gallagher in the Channel 4 series Shameless, and as Vicki MacDonald in the BBC show Waterloo Road but got into TV by accident.
She says: “My elder brother did a lot when he was younger and got a part in the BBC drama State of Play and they needed to cast a younger sibling for him. He said, ‘I have a lttle sister but she’s not really done anything before.’ I auditioned, got the part and it just all went on from there.
“The writer of State of Play also wrote Shameless and he wanted me to audition. So it just snowballed. I’m very, very lucky.
“I started acting when half way through my first year at high school and because I was so young I just got used to it. So it was normal for me to only go to school when I wasn’t working on Shameless.
“I couldn’t have really asked for anything better than to do such amazing programmes. I don’t think I would be acting now if it wasn’t for Shameless. I owe it so much. It was a fantastic starting point for me.”
A Taste of Honey can be seen at Derby Theatre from April 29 to May 10. Go to www.derbytheatre.co.uk.