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Leigh’s Natalie Blair talks about her role in hit BBC Drama Red Rose, acting and love for Manchester

Theatre Writer Glenn Meads met with Leigh's Natalie Blair to talk about her role in the new BBC three hit drama Red Rose

Natalie Blair starred in the BBC Three hit horror drama Red Rose which was filmed in Bolton and other parts of Manchester, including Farnworth.

Natalie was born in Leigh and she returns to Bolton to star in Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine at the Octagon, opposite Les Dennis, Nina Anwar and a great cast.  We caught up with Natalie to find out more.

What were the highlights of Red Rose for you?

Not to sound too cringe but the whole experience was a highlight. I am so lucky and grateful that Red Rose was my professional acting debut. Not only was it an incredible step in my career and a time in my life I will never forget, but it was such a joy to film and learn from such an amazing experience. The response it’s received already has been overwhelming and I cannot wait for the rest of the world to enjoy it.

I received so much support from the creative team, crew and cast which I am so thankful for. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to have collaborated with.

How did you get into acting?

Well, I’ve always been a confident, loud person and I think as a child I was more so than I am now. If I wasn’t singing the same songs over again, I would be writing a play in my room getting ready to perform it to my mum after school.

I think my teachers noticed my energy and confidence and needed to channel it somehow and thank goodness they did. I was maybe 8 years old and the year 4’s were doing the Christmas show but we did Aladdin instead of the classic Nativity play and I was picked to be Aladdin. I remember the feeling of excitement when seeing my name next to the character and getting my script to learn at home.

My mum and I sat every night after tea learning my lines and I loved it. (I owe a lot to my mum.) And then the feeling I got when actually performing it for all the parents, I’ll never forget it.

Which performers do you admire? 

How much time have you got? There’s so many incredible performers who I have been inspired by throughout my training and even inspire me today.

Seeing Pippa Nixon as Rosalind in As You Like It at the RSC sparked my love for Shakespeare, so I have Pippa and that particular company to thank for that.

Sarah Lancashire is an absolute powerhouse who I idolise like no tomorrow. I would love to work with her one day. Same with, Catherine Tate, she is also a huge inspiration.

To name a few others who have inspired me so far and continue to do so; David Tennant, Jodie Comer, Olivia Colman, Ncuti Gatwa (I’m manifesting I can be his next companion in Dr Who!), the list goes on…

I’m also inspired by the people I work with and have trained with. It’s not an easy industry that we want to be a part of and the determination we all have to work is admirable.

What attracted you to Spring and Port Wine? 

I’d never heard of the play before, so once I got the audition through, I read it and got sucked right into the world. Even though it’s set in the Sixties, the themes are still so relevant today. I see so many similarities to my family and the Crompton’s (the family in the play). Sibling rivalry, the different opinions from the varied generations etc..

As well as the play itself, it was also the chance to work at the Octagon Theatre that made it for me. Since high school and after my first experience at the theatre, I have always wanted to perform here. It’s the perfect cocktail for me really, a fantastic play, an amazing theatre and an even more brilliant cast/team to work alongside.

 Tell us a bit about your character Hilda. 

So Hilda is one of 4 siblings. She falls third in the ages and is the second youngest Crompton, being 19 when we meet her.

Hilda is such a significance to the time in which the play is set in terms of ‘the rise of the teenager’. She loves her family dearly but is stubborn in her ways. Hilda recognises that society is moving on from ‘old fashioned’ views and this can sometimes lead to a clash in the family.

 What do you like about Manchester?

What’s not to like? I think you can take it for granted sometimes, especially living so close. It’s no wonder why people are comparing it to London in terms of opportunities for us creatives. My incredible agent (Alex Priestley Talent) is Manchester based, I studied at Pendleton Sixth Form Centre which was on Manchester’s doorstep… so many accessible options for training and career opportunities.

What would you change about the city? 

Kind of back tracking on what I said earlier about accessibility. The only thing I would change is having another Drama School or just more acting classes/courses available. I wouldn’t be in this position that I am today if training wasn’t available to me. I certainly couldn’t then and would never be able to afford London prices, so having the option of training more locally to me, has changed my life for the better.

 Why should audiences come and see Spring and Port Wine

If Les Dennis and Mina Anwar aren’t enough to convince you to come and see it, all I can say is that you’ll be in for a treat!! We can’t wait for you to meet the Crompton’s and come along on this rollercoaster of a story with us. See you there!

Spring and Wine is at the Octagon Theatre from Friday 3 February – Saturday 4 March 2023 and tickets are available here.

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