Julie Hesmondhalgh and The Greatest Play in the History of the World: a little play about love and togetherness

The actor has enjoyed a prolific 2019 and offered WOS an insight into how the year has been for her

Julie Hesmondhalgh
Julie Hesmondhalgh
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Julie Hesmondhalgh has had a hectic year by normal standards but to her 2019 has just been business as usual. The actor had starring roles in both the Royal Exchange's adaptation of Mother Courage and Charley Miles' new play There Are No Beginnings, which debuted at Leeds Playhouse in October.

Ahead of the London premiere of The Greatest Play in the History of the World – where Julie reprises her role after winning The Stage Edinburgh Award in 2018 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the actor spoke to WhatsOnStage about the relevance of the play this Christmas and her numerous successes in 2019.

Has 2019 felt a busy year for you?

For me to do three plays in a year is a little unusual but I have felt really comfortable on stage. I have started to get my head around the fact that it is a live experience and just to accept the fact that I will make mistakes. That blank moment comes into your head at some point but I think audiences generally don't mind – you just have to not panic.

 Rose Ayling-Ellis (Kattrin) and Julie Hesmondhalgh (Mother Courage)
Rose Ayling-Ellis and Julie Hesmondhalgh in Mother Courage
© The Other Richard/ Richard Davenport

When those blanks arrive, does it help being in familiar surroundings like the Royal Exchange?

The Exchange is such a comfortable and happy place for me, such an amazing place to work. To be in Mother Courage was brilliant – young people and students loved it because they were expecting a classic Brechtian production and then we rolled onto stage in an ice cream van. It completely threw them! It wasn't to everyone's tastes but I had the time of my life doing that play.

How was it to perform in There Are No Beginnings?

It was something I couldn't commit to at first because I didn't know my schedule but to be involved was fantastic. It was a play of that region for that region, and specifically for the women who had lived through those times. Charley Miles was telling stories that simply had not been heard before – the play really captured the experience of just being a woman living with that fear. It was amazing being in Leeds because wherever you went, everyone – men and women – had a story. Charley really is the voice of the region and it was perfect to open the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse with that piece of writing.

Julie Hesmondhalgh in There Are No Beginnings
Julie Hesmondhalgh in There Are No Beginnings
© Zoe Martin

Looking forward to The Greatest Play in the History of the World, how does it feel to be returning the play?

I have slipped back into it really easily. I was a bit worried because when I started to relearn lines, I thought I had forgotten them but once I had the first bit of each section muscle memory takes over. After doing There Are No Beginnings, which is quite a hefty play, this feels like a walk in the park! It whips along really nicely and hopefully we should all be in the pub by 9 o'clock.

Does the fact it is playing over Christmas feel special?

Despite being set during Christmas, that aspect isn't massively relevant to the story but it is lovely to be performing during the festive period. As time has gone by and the world has become crazier, it feels like a little play about love and togetherness is a good thing to be doing. It is just the ticket right now. It takes you down to the absolute core of what is important – kindness, connections and looking after people. I am always worried that in selling it I make it sound whimsical but I think it is a story people can get behind. I just hope people come – I can't do it on my own.

The Greatest Play in the History of the World runs from 30 November to 4 January at Trafalgar Studios.