Belfast Telegraph

Coronation Street actor Lawson had mini-stroke due to stress of play

TV star reveals he felt he was having breakdown during the show, writes Victoria Leonard

Tough time: Corrie actor Charlie Lawson
Tough time: Corrie actor Charlie Lawson
Corrie actor Charlie Lawson with co-star Beverley Callard

Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson has said he believed he was "having a breakdown" due to stress during the build-up to taking to the stage in the stage play Rebus: Long Shadows.

In an interview with Stephen Nolan for BBC Radio Ulster, the Fermanagh actor (59) told how he felt he "had no courage" after Roxana Silbert, the original director of the stage show about Ian Rankin's famous detective, withdrew due to personal circumstances.

"I hadn't been on stage for six or seven years, and you've got to scare the c*** out of yourself now and again and go back and do the stage, and this was guaranteed to be one hell of a scary time," revealed Charlie.

"But I was full of confidence."

He said that "from day one it was obvious" that the new director would not have cast him.

"He didn't say that, but it was fairly obvious. And anyway, there was no relationship," he said.

"That started to eat me up a bit when I wasn't working. It started to get into my soul a bit.

"I started not to sleep and I started to get very tired, and after three weeks' rehearsal I was pretty much exhausted already. That brings on anxiety, and it brings on worry about the part and all the rest of it."

Describing tensions during rehearsals, Charlie said he needed "b**** of steel" to go through with previews for the show - but "felt vindicated" after receiving rave reviews.

"It meant the world, my confidence came back, everything that I'd lost, because I was working on thin air - I had no courage, I had nothing," he explained.

"Actors are very vulnerable, and you are out there on your own in front of 1,100 people.

"I never thought I was. I thought I was indestructible, but the whole experience brought me to my knees."

Charlie said he was taken to hospital by the company manager, having barely slept for three to four weeks.

He confessed he believed he was "having a breakdown".

"I felt like I just wanted to go home and do a runner from the theatre like Stephen Fry did," he continued.

"I knew I was physically and mentally exhausted, and I immediately phoned (partner) Debbie and said, 'You've got to get here', I said, 'I think I'm having a crisis, I think something's going to happen here'."

Despite a doctor suggesting that he pull out of the stage show, Charlie went ahead.

On the opening night in Edinburgh, he suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA) - a mini-stroke - onstage.

He recalled how, after "starting to go deaf" and losing the ability to process thoughts, he "woke up on the floor in the wings" but "within half an hour I felt fine, just like I wanted to go to bed".

The following day, scans reveal he had suffered a TIA.

"I know why I was under pressure, I know why I was exhausted and I know why I was at the end of my rope, and I don't forget," he said.

Despite receiving support from the cast and being invited back for another tour of the play next year, Charlie said he won't be returning.

Reflecting on how life has changed since suffering the mini-stroke, he said he now cries "over the stupidest things that I never would have done before".

"It has affected my emotional psyche," he confessed. "I consider that the way I was feeling mentally at the time I'm surprised that my brain didn't just explode, so I'm lucky. All the scans show that my heart is brilliant, there's no valve problem, there's no clot, it was down to stress.

"I'm angry about it, because I know why it happened. But I'll get over that."

Charlie says that he intends to "go and talk to someone" about his experience, and in the meantime is enjoying living life to the full with his partner Debbie.

"I might be as tough as old boots on the outside, but I'm just as sensitive as anybody else who's in the acting profession underneath it," he stated.

"And to find yourself in the position I found myself in, strong as constitutionally I might be, mentally I'm as weak as anybody else, and it brought me to my knees, quite literally."

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