Lesley Sharp on The Seagull & Life in East Dulwich

As she stars in The Seagull at the Lyric Hammermsith, Lesley Sharp talks about feeling lucky, the thrill of returning to stage and life in East Dulwich

Lead image: Tim Roney

Perched on a sleek, curved sofa in the first floor foyer at the Lyric Hammersmith, Lesley Sharp smiles comfortably from ear to ear. She’s expressive, passionate and tremendously warm, speaking openly with great enthusiasm for her work.

Currently in the throes of all-day rehearsals and back-to-back interviews, the Manchester-born actress and now Dulwich local doesn’t look the least bit weary. In fact, she’s quite the opposite – her kohl-rimmed blue eyes sparkling with anticipation.

Though she has made her name playing resilient, complex yet very real female characters, both on screen and on the stage – Janet Scott in police procedural Scott & Bailey, Susan in Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, and DC Oliver in harrowing real-life BBC1 drama Three Girls – the pattern isn’t something she had planned.

‘I don’t sit in judgement at home, thinking that I have to wait for a script with a strong woman at the centre of it,’ she says. ‘I look for roles that I can really play – pieces of work that I can really sink my teeth into.’

There’s a certain authenticity to her performances; a unique and emotive vulnerability that is present in even her gutsiest works, making the characters she plays all the more captivating.

Sharp is currently playing Irina in a reworking of Chekhov’s great classic, The Seagull, by Sean Holmes and Simon Stephens. A talented, tormented actress struggling to come to terms with the fact that her glory days are over, Irina is contrary and relatable.

The Seagull is a real slice of life – hilarious, but also incredibly moving and sad

‘She’s a narcissist, a creative,’ Sharp explains. ‘She’s full of joy and full of hope, but she’s terrorised by the notion that she might become invisible.’

Set in the sweeping Russian countryside, the production explores intense jealousy and unrequited love, making it remarkably relevant today despite having been penned at the turn of the 20th century.

‘It’s a real slice of life – hilarious, but also incredibly moving and sad,’ she adds.

Running for just over a month at the Lyric Hammersmith, The Seagull is yet another superb offering in a truly stellar run of performances since Sean Holmes oversaw the rebirth of the west London creative space two years ago.

Speaking of the brilliant way in which the Lyric has been transformed, Sharp enthuses: ‘It’s a kind of community event, this place. There’s always a meeting going on, or some singing, or some dancing.’

Sharp joined the Manchester Youth Theatre in the 70s before cutting her teeth under the aegis of Max Stafford-Clark at the Royal Court. The plays she’s been involved in run the gamut from Uncle Vanya and A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre, to Sam Shepard’s The God of Hell at the Donmar Warehouse, and her love of the stage is plain to see.

Speaking of the sense of fulfilment that comes with treading the boards, she smiles: ‘You just never know what’s going to happen – that’s the thrilling thing about it.’

Having grown up in Lancashire, Sharp is immensely proud of her northern roots yet she’s found nothing but kindness since moving to the capital as an 18-year-old. She muses that Dulwich has changed a lot since she first arrived there, but sees the calm, verdant spaces as a sort of reply to Hampstead on the south of the river.

To have a real range of genres to dip into – not just cop shows, not just funny stuff or classical theatre, but all of them? I thank my lucky stars

‘I hold Manchester very, very, very dear in my heart,’ she says. ‘But I get a real kick out of living in south east London.’

At the weekend you’ll find her dipping in and out of the gift shops and grocers that border Lordship Lane, at The Actress on Crystal Palace Road or tucking into a mean Sunday lunch at Franklins.

‘I love sitting up front on those scrub wooden tables,’ she grins. With an admirable catalogue of roles under her belt and plenty more in the pipeline, Sharp’s gratitude for the opportunities that have come her way couldn’t be clearer.

‘To have a real range of genres to dip into – not just cop shows, not just funny stuff or classical theatre, but all of them? I thank my lucky stars.’

And though eager to see a greater number of exciting, gripping parts opening up for women, she hesitates to dwell on the subject. ‘As actresses all we can do is work with the material we’re given. We don’t generate it and we don’t commission it, but I think more interesting roles are beginning to come through.’

Come November, she’ll be back on our screens starring alongside Philip Glenister in Living the Dream – a refreshing comedy drama set in a down at heel RV park in sunny Florida. ‘Phil and I get on terribly well – we worked together years ago on Clocking Off – and this one was just really good fun because it’s all a bit of a caper,’ she beams.

The six-part series, from the producers of Cold Feet, follows the Pemberton family as they face culture clashes and awkward moments aplenty while attempting to whip their new sunshine state venture into shape.

‘They’re supposed to be having a fantastic time out there but it’s actually a bit crap. It’s just daft and funny’.

Living the Dream airs on 2 November at 9pm on Sky 1


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