WIT at the Royal Exchange, preview: Julie Hesmondhalgh & a Pulitzer Prize? Book now

Daniel Jarvis

Royal Exchange stalwart Julie Hesmondhalgh launches the theatre’s 2016 season in Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer prize winner.

Manchester is home to a wealth of acting talent and some of the nation’s finest theatres – and the Royal Exchange is fortunate to be championed by two renowned actresses; associate artist Maxine Peake and returning star Julie Hesmondhalgh. Best known for her long-standing role as Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, Julie made her Royal Exchange debut in Simon Stephens’ Blindsided and also appeared in Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, for which she won a Manchester Theatre Award. Originally born in Accrington, Lancashire, she has been a strong advocate for the north; from her recent appearance in Canal-Street centric drama Cucumber to her involvement in The Gap supporting new writing in Manchester.

“A beautiful play that is full of grace and redemption”

In WIT, she plays Professor Vivian Bearing: a celebrated academic whose life of rationalism and discipline is turned upside down with the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer and its unforgiving treatment. Simultaneously heart-breaking and hilarious, Edson’s play won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

In preparation for her role as the stricken heroine, Julie has said: “at its most simple WIT is about life, love, sickness and death, something we can all relate to. But it’s so much more intricate than that, it is a beautiful play that is full of grace and redemption.” The play’s subject matter is also one that is familiar to director Raz Shaw, author Death and the Elephant: How Cancer Saved My Life. Diagnosed at age 28 with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Shaw has faced some of Vivian’s situation first hand.

Julie Hesmondhalgh captured the nation’s hearts with her portrayal of Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper, bringing sensitive issues such as transphobia and euthanasia to the forefront of the public consciousness. With such an accomplished actress and sympathetic director on board, the Royal Exchange’s latest production looks set to win hearts – and minds.

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