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Interview: Denise Black
It's fair to say actress Denise Black has had a varied TV career: she's been a vice-girl in prison, a clubbing mum and has bedded Ricky Tomlinson. We spoke to the woman who is best remembered for being Ken Barlow's bit on the side in Coronation Street.
YOU'RE not quite talking to Denise Black yet," Denise Black warns me at the start of our interview.
"I've just come out of rehearsals so I'm still half Mrs Bryant, half Denise. I'm in the twilight zone."
I've caught Denise in the lunch break between rehearsals for her new play, Roots, by Arnold Wesker, at Manchester's Royal Exchange.
I admit I've not heard of the play before and Denise is not surprised.
"Not an awful lot of people have," she says.
"Contrary to popular belief, it's not about the American slave trade. It was written in 1958 and it's a hilarious and at times quite sad a kitchen sink drama about an angry young woman.
"I don't quite know how we don't all know it. I think Wesker's work has been overlooked a bit because the original production starred Joan Plowright who married Laurence Olivier and was a huge success, but since then it's been remarkable un-done."
Set in rural Norfolk in the 1950s, Roots is a story of a young woman's self-discovery.
The action focuses on Beatie Bryant as she transitions from an uneducated working-class woman obsessed with Ronnie, her unseen liberal boyfriend, to a woman who can express herself and the struggles of her time.
While Beatie counts down the two weeks until he visits, she cooks, cleans, bathes and teaches her mother about high culture.
Denise plays Beatie's mother.
"One one level the play is about times gone by, but on another level it's very current," says Denise.
"It was written in 1958 but it's so fresh in a lot of ways that it could be based now.
"It especially reflects what is going on in a lot of Muslim and Jewish families right now and in any cultures that are hanging on to traditional values. Beatie returns home with her new-fangled London ideas and tries to educate her family.
"The scenario is totally familiar to me because I remember wanting to change my parents point of view, challenging everything they knew, telling them that they knew nothing about the world around them.
"Also, being from Hampshire I knew women who were exactly like the character I'm playing, real salt of the earth.
"Their understanding of the world is with the seasons and the comings and goings of their village."
Denise plays a character older than her years, which is nothing new to her.
"I always seem to play older characters," she say, "I don't know why. Maybe it's an alternative to Botox - get younger characters playing older roles? I was older than myself in Corrie and in Queer As Folk too."
In real-life Denise is approaching the big five-o this year, something that does not concern her in the slightest.
"I don't really know what I'll to celebrate turning. I haven't planned anything or even really thought about it," she says. "I think each time you have the big birthdays - the ones ending in 0 - you go into shock and it doesn't sink in. I really looked forward to being 30 because it was one of the happiest times of my life because I had my first child at 30. With 40 I though What's everyone complaining about? I'm still young' and I still feel young with 50 approaching too. I'm still fit and healthy. I think I'll be like this forever. I'll be 90 and thinking I'm 40!
And turning 50 hasn't meant giving up on anything - in fact Denise still has a long list of things she still wants to achieve.
"Aspirations? I've got loads," she laughs. "I want to take a show to the Edinburgh Festival - maybe this year will be the year, and I'm always up for new exciting things."
See Denise Black in Arnold Wesker's Roots at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, from Wednesday, January 30 to Saturday, March 1. For tickets call box office on 0161 833 9833 or visit the website below.