Actress Balvinder Sopal stars tonight in the world premiere of Mela. VAL JAVIN finds out how she arrived in Huddersfield 10 years ago to do a theatre degree and ended up adopting it as her home town
ACTRESS Balvinder Sopal walked into the foyer of the West Yorkshire Playhouse and had the shock of her life.
“I came in and glanced up at the main wall and there’s a massive bill board poster up there and I thought – this is a big deal.”
For the face looking down at Balvinder was her own. Tonight, she will be one of a cast of eight performers appearing at the Playhouse in the world premiere of Mela, a new play by Bradford-born playwright Tajinder Singh Hayer.
These are exciting times for the 29-year-old actress who lives in the centre of Huddersfield and whose smiling face is often seen behind the box office at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre. For when Balvinder (known to her friends as Bal) is not busy with her acting career, she is still happy to do shifts selling theatre tickets for the LBT.
You suspect there will be fewer tickets sold in future by Balvinder and more bought to see her as her acting career takes off. And clearly, it is doing just that.
“I’ve always wanted to do performance. At the moment, I just want to concentrate on acting but I want to do other things connected with the stage like directing. I’m in it for the long haul.
“Work will come and I will take whatever comes. It’s not about being famous. It is about me progressing and developing as an actor.”
Balvinder arrived in Huddersfield 10 years ago, heading for its university and a degree course. But she laughingly admits that the town she now loves, she hadn’t then even heard of.
“I was brought up in Gillingham in Kent where I lived until I was 19. I came to Huddersfield 10 years ago to do a theatre degree.
“I wanted to study in London and that didn’t happen. And when I went through clearing, it was all the universities in the north that were still able to offer places. We hadn’t even heard of Huddersfield.
So why come to a town that the family hadn’t heard of?
“It was a case of they offered the best course. My dad said that if I didn’t do the course then, I’d never do it. And he said ‘we want you to go and do it.’ ”
That encouragement has never wavered with Balvinder’s family supporting her every step of the way.
“My parents have been brilliant. I can’t fault them. They’ve been incredible. They always come and see stuff and support the work that I do.”
And yes, they will be making the trip to Leeds to see Balvinder play potter Mariam one of a group of very different characters whose paths cross during a multi-cultural celebration held in Bradford’s Peel Park.
“It’s a great play. He’s a very beautiful writer and some of the imagery he uses is so poetic.It’s people talking about things that matter to them.”
What matters to Balvinder is family and theatre.
“When I finished university, I gave myself six months to see if I could get work. Lots of my friends were around in Huddersfield and still are – they are my second support network. It’s just lovely to be around Huddersfield.”
But family is clearly vital. Balvinder is the eldest of four. And she is proud of her two brothers and a sister who all have busy careers in business.
They’ve shared her journey working in theatre in education where she helped create pieces tackling issues ranging from alcohol to bullying, a valuable stint with Huddersfield based Chol Theatre plus a four year run on Silver Street, the Nation's first Asian radio soap which is broadcast by the BBC.
“It’s made in Birmingham and I go once a month. for a week.
“There are between 25 and 31 episodes a month and it depends on your storyline as to how much you are needed.
“Radio is such a different medium. You are not sure when you are getting it just right and I think that a lot of what I do is dependent on movement,” she said.
Balvinder fits in her role in Silver Street alongside her theatre work. She’s loved her recent return to Chol and her work with another Huddersfield company, Benchmark Theatre.
“It was fantastic to work with Chol again on their new project Beast Market. It was about everyday life and that’s what I like, theatre that connects with its audiences. It’s about the norm, about what is going on in people’s lives.”
Mela, which runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until July 12, offers something similar, a slice of multi-cultural life in a busy northern city.
WYP box office is on 0113 213 7273.