She played Roy Cropper’s wife, Hayley in Coronation Street for 15 years and departed in 2014. Since leaving, Julie Hesmondhalgh has moved on to play a multitude of joyous roles and I had the great pleasure of watching her in her latest project, playing terminal Cancer patient, Vivian in ‘Wit’ at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. I caught up with Julie to find out what ever happened to Hayley’s famous anorak and all sorts of other gossip!
The naked ambition and witticism of this incredibly moving, informative and real play is to be commended. Written by Margaret Edson and produced by Raz Shaw, Wit brings a missing jigsaw puzzle piece to the line up of productions which are showing across the UK at the moment.
I think if a play forces you to sit back in your seat because its drawing you in so much that your own memories are triggered to such an extent as mine were – then someone’s doing something right! Any play dealing with Cancer may evoke emotions in members of the audience, sadly it’s too common an occurrence in people’s lives. That’s why this production carries such an important message.
Julie Hesmondhalgh takes the lead role of Vivian Bearing, a professor of metaphysical poetry who is arguably obsessed with poet John Donne and indeed her very existence seems to be fuelled by etymology. She’s isolated and diagnosed with stage four ovarian Cancer for which she is taking a particularly potent dose of Chemotherapy, eight doses to be exact and the full dose each cycle. Hesmondhalgh embodies the character, she has her own head shaved and looks every inch the part. The set creates the perfect clinical environment with the space that The Royal Exchange Theatre provides also playing its part in this element.
There is much hub-bub around the staff to-ing and fro-ing, while Bearing comes to terms with the illness that will take her life and reflects back on her life as an academic. I particularly noted that while Harvey Kelekian M.D. (played by Tom Hodgkins) delivered the diagnosis, his voice faded into the background and became a blur as Bearing took in the devastating information. An interesting turn of events develops when Jason Posner M.D. (played by Esh Alladi) who is conducting research into Cancer, reveals that he took Bearing’s course at University because it was such a difficult course. Posner has no bedside manner whatsoever, and indeed shares characteristics with Bearing, as she later considers. In contrast, Jenny Platt’s portrayal of Susie Monahan R.N. B.S.N is ditzy and bubbly, she is not motivated by the highfalutin. Julie Legrand took a superb part as Bearing’s Literature Professor and her latter appearance provides one of the most moving moments when she is the sole visitor to the hospital bed.
Kudos to Georgina Lamb for the movement in this piece, as this goes a long way towards setting each scene and brings the cast together as a team in excellent symmetry.
Wit is on award winning Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 13th February, Julie Hesmondhalgh gives the performance of her career, in my opinion – don’t miss it!
Link to purchase tickets is here: http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/wit