HAVING played Debbie Gallagher in offbeat comedy drama Shameless for seven years, actress Rebecca Ryan is no stranger to gritty roles.

Now the 23-year-old former teen matriarch of the fictional Chatsworth Estate is appearing on stage in another feisty guise — 17-year-old working class girl Jo, in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey.

The former St Monica's High School pupil, who lives in Prestwich, appeared in the play at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre last year and has reprised the role for a tour, which calls into The Lowry, Salford Quays, from Tuesday to Saturday, June 14.

Rebecca said: “We are half way through the tour, it’s been going really, really well.
“I’m loving the fact I have got the opportunity to do it again.

“Jo is such a fantastic part that I can really sink my teeth into.

“I do love theatre. I’ve done a few theatre plays now and I do enjoy doing them.”

Set in Salford, in 1959, and Jo is desperate to break free from her vulgar, wayward and man-hunting mother, Helen.

When the teenager falls in love with Jimmy, a black sailor on shore leave, she is abandoned by her mother.

Left to cope on her own, she discovers that her independent spirit is both her torment and her salvation.

One of the most influential plays of its generation, A Taste of Honey was written when Salford-born Delaney was just 18.

It burst onto the stage in 1961, in a production that took the West End by storm and later became a classic of British cinema, and Rebecca cannot wait to perform it close to home next week.

She said: “I can’t wait, I’m so excited, really excited for that.

“I’ll have all my friends and family coming to it.

“A lot of them have seen it before. It’s a great play.

“It’s gritty, it’s funny, it’s got everything in it.”

It was at the age of 11 Rebecca found herself with a role in Paul Abbott’s ground-breaking and gob-smacking new programme, Shameless, having previously appeared in his six-part series State of Play.

She said: “My brother got a part in State of Play and they were casting for a little sister.

“He said, I’ve got a little sister who does acting.

“We went for the audition together and we both got the parts.

“I was 11 when I started Shameless. I did Shameless all the way until I was 18.

“It was just normal to me.

“I would go into school as normal on my days off. I would go into filming.

“That was kind of it and it was normal. It was the best time of my life, it was such an experience.”

With no formal acting training, Rebecca found herself combining her natural talent with on the job experience, working alongside some of the country’s best actors.

She said: “Just sitting there and watching them all used to be amazing — James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, Maxine Peake, David Threlfall.

“It was just a masterclass for me, to sit there and watch all these incredible people.

“I learnt so much from them and made some great friends.

“I think it was obviously very gritty and hard-hitting but at the same time it was so funny and real and you watched it and would know someone like that.”

Thanks to support from friends, family and teachers at her former school, Rebecca was able to juggle schoolwork with appearing in Shameless which was watched by more than three million people at its peak.

She said: “They were really supportive.

“The head teacher there at the time, Mr McCarron, he was so brilliant.

“It just kind of worked out. When I was filming I had a tutor on set with me.

“The days that I had off, I went in as normal. It seemed to work out great.”

Looking to the future and the former Holy Cross College student, who played Vicki McDonald in BBC’s Waterloo Road, would like to do more television work.

She said: “I would like to do more TV stuff. I would like to do a period piece, maybe something like Downton Abbey or Mr Selfridge.

“They are probably my favourite things to watch.”

A Taste of Honey is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, from Tuesday, June 10, to Saturday, June 14.

Call 0843 208 6005 for tickets.