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Julie Hesmondhalgh condemns loss of support for working-class actors

Julie Hesmondhalgh in rehearsals for Wit and the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Former Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh has claimed working-class aspiring actors face “unbelievably tough” odds because they receive no government support.

She said it was “so much easier” for her to start an acting career in the 1980s because she had financial aid both during and after drama school.

Hesmondhalgh played Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street for 16 years until 2014, and has since performed in a number of plays at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Speaking to The Stage, she said that breaking into acting was now “really difficult” for people from working-class backgrounds.

She said: “I know a girl who got a place at Drama Centre London on the foundation course, which is a dream place to go to. There’s no loan available for that, and the full bursary was only two-thirds [of the total cost]. And she just couldn’t do it.”

Hesmondhalgh continued: “So she’s gone somewhere else and she’s happy there. But when she leaves, how can she [afford to] live in London? It’s just really, really difficult.”

Her remarks come in the same week the government has moved to abolish maintenance grants for the poorest higher education students.

She said: “It was so much easier for me. I got a full grant to go to drama school because I’m from a working-class background.”

After leaving drama school, Hesmondhalgh signed on to jobseeker’s allowance and received housing benefit for several years while she helped set up fringe London venue Arts Threshold – where Rufus Norris directed his first play.

She said: “I couldn’t have done it without [those benefits]. Now they would be making me go and do other jobs, but I was saying: this is my apprenticeship. This will stand me in stead for the future, and that was enough then.”

Earlier this week, Charles Dance claimed there were “fewer opportunities” for aspiring young actors who are state-educated [1].

To read The Stage’s full interview with Julie Hesmondhalgh, click here [2].