Shameless and Waterloo Road star Rebecca Ryan loves the play A Taste of Honey so much that she has been in two productions in less than a year.
Set in Salford in 1959, the play follows 17-year-old Jo, played by Rebecca, who is desperate to break free from her wayward mother, Helen. Jo’s instinct for survival leads her to fall in love with Jimmy, a sailor on shore leave. Abandoned by her mother, Jo’s courage is tested yet again when Jimmy returns to sea, and she discovers she’s pregnant.
She only has her friend Geoff to turn to.
The play became a classic 1961 film, starring Rita Tushingham.
Rebecca said: “I did it in Edinburgh last year and it was fantastic. When my agent came through with the audition, I jumped at the chance.
“It’s a completely different production. It was really interesting getting to work with different people and a different director to see how they interpreted it again. It’s really exciting for me to learn different things.”
She described Jo as “very complicated and a great character to play. I can really get my teeth in to her and explore it. She is very opinionated, determined and outspoken.
“She also has a real vulnerable side to her. She keeps it hidden but it creeps out there.
“I think with a character like her I can never stop learning about her and adding new things.”
Rebecca feels that, although the play was written in the 1950s, it is still relevant today. “It stands the test of time and works really well. Shelagh Delaney was only 17 or 18 when she wrote it. It’s crazy.”
The tough relationship between Jo and her mum is a key part of the play, said Rebecca. She said: “She is a really selfish character who tends to just think of herself. They argue and probe each other all of the time. They pick and pick until it explodes.
“In a weird way, it’s the only way they know how to show affection almost. In one scene Geoff says ‘stop shouting’ and they say, ‘we enjoy it’!
“If they get close or have a nice, tender moment they don’t know what to do.”
The bond between Jo and Geoff is totally different. Rebecca said: “He is such a lovely character. She does enjoy having him there. All he wants to do is look after and take care of her.
“Because she’s never had that before, I don’t think she can really believe that he’s going to do what he says.
“Everyone else has left or never fulfilled their promises.
“She pushes him away as well. She doesn’t want to let herself get too attached. It’s really interesting, that relationship.”
The male actors sing some of the popular music of the time between scenes, which Rebecca says adds a whole different element to the production by Hull Truck Theatre that’s on tour at the moment.
Rebecca agrees that Jo is very similar to lots of the characters in Shameless, the show she was in for 10 years. Set on the rundown Chatsworth Estate in Manchester, the show followed the lives and loves of the dysfunctional Gallagher clan.
She said: “I could definitely see Jo living on that estate. She’d fit in, no problem.”
Rebecca grew up on the show. She made her debut as Debbie Gallagher, the youngster who was old beyond her years and kept the family together, at the age of 11. She left when she was almost 18.
She said: “It went for 10 years, which is crazy. It was amazing but I think that’s it done now.”
Rebecca hadn’t seen the US version but thought it would be weird to see all the character played by USD actors.
After Shameless she moved on to Waterloo Road for two and a half years, playing Vicki MacDonald.
“I came in to do just one episode and they asked if I would stay on and do a few more. I absolutely loved it so much, it was so exciting.”
n The Hull Truck Theatre production of A Taste of Honey is at the Doncaster venue from Wednesday to Saturday (May 14 to 17). Tickets: call 01302 303959 or go online at www.castindoncaster.com