Actress Rebecca Ryan is a Northern girl. She is Manchester born and bred. After accidentally falling into acting at the age of 11, Ryan came to own the role of Debbie Gallagher on Channel 4’s acclaimed estate comedy-drama Shameless. While most teenagers grew up only having to worry about the scrutiny of their school peers, Ryan went through her formative years in plain view of everyone in the fictional Chatsworth council estate.
“It was a massive, massive part of my life, all through my growing up,”, Ryan tells Northern Soul. “So it will always be with me. I will always remember it as being such an amazing time because she was a great character to play.”
As Ryan matured so did Debbie, meaning she had to show Debbie going through everything from her first period to her first romance. However, all that seems not to have bothered her one bit. Instead, she is endlessly enthusiastic about her experiences on Shameless. And who can blame her. Every step of the way she had support and instruction from the talented Shameless family including the likes of James McAvoy, David Threlfall, Maxine Peake and Anne-Marie Duff.
“I was really lucky to be able to work with those amazing people, I learnt so much from it”, says Ryan. “I kind just learnt on the job – that was my training to just sit back and watch them working and I learnt a lot from sitting back and watching.”
Shameless ended up becoming a launch-pad for some of the most in-demand stars of British film and television. A decade later, the iconic comedy series may have come to an end but Ryan is now one of a number of high-flyers to graduate from the Chatsworth Estate. And she is far from finished.
After learning her craft on television, Ryan leapt onto the stage for the first time in 2008 for Fiona Evans’s Scarborough at London’s Royal Court Theatre. Then she fell in love with theatre. “I love the buzz and the excitement that you get on stage. I love the instant reaction that you get from the audience. I love the excitement of knowing that you can’t mess up and everything has to be right on the night. So I really do love that excitement of it all. I think that because I’ve being doing TV since I was 11 I am probably more used to that – I am more comfortable in TV. But I love the challenges that theatre brings.”
At the moment, she is challenging herself by playing Jo in Hull Truck Theatre’s production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey; something which Ryan had already performed in another production. “I did it last year in Edinburgh. When I got the opportunity to audition again, I jumped at the chance because it’s such a great play and brilliantly written.”
Role reprisals can be a double-edged sword; the more time spent with a character the better they are understood by the actor, but the difficulty is making the performance fit a different production and keeping it fresh. Ryan seems to be in no danger though. “Jo, the character that I play, is just so complex and so different which is really fun for me because even though I played it last year I’m still sort of finding new things to play around with about the character.”
Of course, it is also the responsibility of director Mark Babych – in his debut as artistic director of Hull Truck Theatre – to ensure this production is doing something different given it’s a play that has enjoyed numerous recent revivals. Speaking of the two productions she has experienced, Ryan is quick to emphasise the differences. “They’re just two completely different takes on the play…this production has a really nice musical element thread throughout the play…it’s really interesting to see how two directors can do completely different things with it, but both be really amazing and both work really well.”
Hull Truck’s production is touring up and down the country, an experience that Ryan is particularly enjoying. “It spices the play up a bit – instead of being the same play every night in the same venue – it’s nice that we get to do it in different places.” In Scarborough, the cast even got to perform the play in the round.
What’s more, this story of a 17-year-old discovering adulthood in the intolerant 1950s is coming home to Salford at The Lowry. “It is where the play is set as well, so it has got that added bonus. I have been [to The Lowry] but I’ve not worked there before. I can’t wait – doing it in my hometown. I’m really excited.”
Ryan left Channel 4’s Manchester estate a late teen on the cusp of adulthood. Since then she has certainly become an adult. And now is her chance to take to the stage in her hometown to show just how much she has matured.
Rebecca Ryan will be performing in Hull Truck Theatre and Derby Theatre’s production of A Taste of Honey at The Lowry, Salford from June 10-14, 2014. For other tour dates, follow this link www.hulltruck.co.uk/on-tour
For more information see: www.thelowry.com/event/a-taste-of-honey1