It is almost 20 years since Pooky Quesnel last appeared on stage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, in a production of Romeo and Juliet.

But next week she will be back in Sweat, a Pullitzer Prize winning play which is already seen as an American classic.

Pooky - “it’s a nickname I was given by my family when I was six months old and it just stuck” - is a familiar face from countless TV dramas ranging from Cardiac Arrest to The A Word.

The Bolton News: Pooky Quesnel in rehearsal for Sweat at the Royal Exchange (Picture: Ella Mayamothi Sommeil)

And she can’t wait to bring what she regards as a very special work to audiences in Manchester.

Set in the steel belt around the year 2000, Sweat looks at how communities and relationships are shattered when the bosses look to cut costs and jobs cuts loom.

“The play is just so relevant,” said Pooky. “Although it is about America’s steel belt you could easily put it into northern accents, change steel to coal and it would sit perfectly in this area.

“It’s really the American equivalent of the miner’s strike and it was capitalism putting a squeeze on labour and taking the market to where labour was cheap and how that affects the working class people earning their living.”

As the world which they have know for generations begins to collapse around them, lifelong friends become tested, relationships become strained to breaking point.

“In researching the play I watched a lot of documentaries about the steel workers,” said Pooky. “They were so proud of and identified with their work.

“The use the word family all the time when talking about their co-workers.

“In the play what you see is this family in the pub where they celebrate birthdays and all the big events are discussed and then when the pressure of unemployment looms it’s how that impacts on these tight knit relationships.”

Although Sweat was written before Donald Trump became president and the American political landscape changed dramatically, Sweat could be seen as documenting the rise of nationalism in the States and the divisions in society that have ensued.

The Bolton News: Pooky QUesnel in rehearsals for Sweat at the Royal Exchange (Picture: Ella Mayamothi Sommeil)

“Although the play is mainly set 24 years ago it is completely and utterly pertinent to today,” said Pooky. “We were lucky to have a Zoom chat with Lynn Nottage who wrote the play and she said when she wrote it she was projecting into the future and had no idea how accurate this was going to be with the advent of Trump. It’s totally accurate for what’s happening now which is a bit scary.”

Although Sweat deals with powerful themes, Pooky believes that audiences will also get a lot of enjoyment from watching it.

“It will provoke a lot of thought and debate but it also has a lot of humour in it,” she said. “Lynn Nottage is so good at observing people. She reflects everybody and everybody’s point of view without judgement.

“I just think it’s an absolutely fantastic play, it is so well constructed. For an actor it’s a gift.

“When we rehearse we discuss the scene and put it on its feet and I’ve never had such deep discussions at that phase because the text is that rich. Lynn has woven everything through so thoroughly and the characters are so real.

“It is a real treat to have something like this to work with. But then of course, the pressure is on to do the play justice and not to get in the way of the play. It’s all there for us.”

With a play dealing with such Getting the chance to return to the Royal Exchange has been special too.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 12 or 13,” said Pooky, who grew up in nearby Eccles. “It’s the Royal Exchange’s fault that I became an actor. I’d get on the bus super early on a Saturday and queue for one of the banquette seats with my fiver in my hand so I could watch the likes of Robert Lindsay work.

The Bolton News: Pooky Quesnel returning to the Royal Exchange

“I remember seeing Moby Dick here when the staged inflated in front of me and Faustus when the devil was on the first balcony.

“I feel so privileged to have had that on my doorstep. It was like a drug I couldn’t get enough of. It showed me that theatre is that magic altering of reality and I got to watch people working on stage and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Having been to and worked at the Royal Exchange before Pooky is aware of the unique challenges of the theatre.

“It is such a great space,” she said, “but there is nowhere to hide. As an audience member you feel so included in what’s going on.”

It’s certainly very different from TV which has taken up much of her time recently.

“With TV, the camera is generally close up and you are inviting it to read your thoughts,” she said. “Theatre is less fragmented. You run the whole of everything in chronological order every time. It’s a jump on the train and then see what happens on that journey and it’s different every night.

“With telly I’ve frequently shot the last scene first.

The Bolton News: Pooky Quesnel in rehearsals for Sweat at the Royal Exchange (Picture: Ella Mayamothi)

“Also TV goes through a process of editing so you don’t have overall control of how your performance is seen whereas on stage you have more control; there’s no filter between you and the audience.

“But that’s the alchemy of it, the magic. It’s what we live for as actors it’s that heightened existence. For me it’s a bit like being in a trance in the way you create whole new reality for yourself. As an actor your job is to create imagination and then invite the audience in.”

Now living in London, Pooky is also loving the fact that Sweat has brought her home - literally.

“I’m staying with my mum and dad in the house I grew up in,” she said. “It’s brilliant. I have got this fantastic play to be part of and get to spend time with my parents. I’m very lucky.”

Sweat, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Friday, April 26 to Saturday, May 25. Details from