Shameless star Rebecca Ryan brings A Taste of Honey to Edinburgh

Rebecca Ryan in A Taste Of Honey
Rebecca Ryan in A Taste Of Honey
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Number 2 Windsor Gardens, as any fan of Shameless will tell you, is on the infamous Chatsworth Estate. It is also the home of Debbie, only daughter of the ghastly Gallagher clan.

Waterloo Road is another address all to familiar to fans of telly drama, as is stripping schoolgirl Vicki McDonald.

For her latest project, actress Rebecca Ryan, who played both characters, has flitted to Edinburgh, to Grindlay Street and the Royal Lyceum to be exact, where she opens tonight in the company’s new production of Shelagh Delaney’s ground-breaking kitchen sink drama, A Taste Of Honey.

“It’s my first time in Edinburgh and I am loving it,” says the 21-year-old, revealing that A Taste of Honey will be only her third stage appearance.

“I’ve not done as much theatre as TV,” she says. “The first play I ever did, back in 2008 at the Royal Court, in London, was called Scarborough; that was brilliant.

“Then I did Lost Monsters at the Everyman theatre in Liverpool, and now this. So this is my third.”

A far more familiar face on television, where her other credits have included Casualty, Holby City, Doctors, Monroe and Emmerdale - she played Bob Hope’s daughter, Carly - Ryan admits that without Shameless, there is no way she would doing what she is doing now.

However, she reveals that the role of the sassy, wiser-than-her-years Gallagher girl was a direct result of her first major TV outing, playing opposite her brother Charlie in the BBC drama State of Play.

“My brother got a part in State of Play,” she recalls, “He was playing David Morrisey’s son, and the producers rang the house to say that they had not yet cast the little sister. They were still looking.’

“He said, ‘Oh, well I’ve got a little sister who does acting.’ But I’d never done anything like that before. So they auditioned us together and cast us as brother and sister.

“Now, Paul Abbott, who wrote State of Play, also wrote Shameless, and he suggested me when they were auditioning for Debbie... it has all kind of gone from there.”

Set in a world of poverty and working class struggle, there are many similarities between Shameless and A Taste of Honey.

Now considered a modern British classic, A Taste of Honey premiered on the stage in 1958 as a Joan Littlwood production. A drama of tenements, housing estates and bingo halls, it was the fore-runner of today’s soap operas and tells the story of Jo, a 17-year-old lass from Salford, whose mother mooches from one relationship to another with little regard for her daughter. In need of love, Jo takes up with Jimmie, a black sailor. After proposing marriage he abandons her and goes back to sea, leaving her pregnant at a time when race and teenage pregnancy were high on the political agenda. Tackling themes of racism, poverty and sexuality it is remarkable to think that Delaney - who died aged 72 in November 2011 - was only 18 when she wrote the piece.

Ryan plays Jo, the role that made a star of the young Rita Tushingham in the 1961 movie version, opposite Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens and Murray Melvin.

She won the part at an open audition in Manchester last year, and is joined on stage by Lucy Black as her flirty mum Helen, Adrian Decosta as Jimmie, her lover, and Keith Fleming as Helen’s fancyman, Peter.

She is also reunited on stage with her brother Charlie, who plays Geoffrey, the gay youth who befriends Jo and with whom she and her newly-born set up home..

“Jo is a strong woman,” says Ryan, who has deliberately avoided watching the film before playing the role.

“She has a very weird relationship with Helen but can see that, really, she is already turning into her mother.

“She’s a complex character to explore and I’m enjoying getting my teeth into her. Every day I discover something more about her.”

And despite finding opening nights terrifying, Rebecca admits that she can’t wait for tonight’s opening night.

“We’re ready for an audience,” she says.

Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, tonight-9 February, 7.45pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14.50-£29, 0131-248 4848