JOHN McArdle admits that his first role after leaving top soap Emmerdale has pushed him to the limits.

John - who played handyman Ronnie Hale - will come to the Lowry next week in Frantic Assembly's production of Thing I Knew to be True.

The company is renowned for its physical work as John has discovered.

“It’s been a lot different to what I’m used that’s for sure,” he said. “The process is quite hard in terms of rehearsals. We start off the day doing a physical rehearsal for about an hour, then do movement that’s in the play for a couple of hours and then start on the text after that.

“I’m quite fit for my age (he’s now 68) but this was pushing me to the limits. But I have started to ease into it more, I’m holding my own.”

The production is a powerful study of a family where the children have all flown the nest and returns to the Lowry after a successful run last year.

“To be honest I didn’t know too much about Frantic Assembly and when I got offered the part,” said John. “I was debating whether to do it or not when my daughter who is an actress said ‘dad you’ve got to do it’ and then my son Joe said ‘dad you can’t turn that down’. By the time my agent told me I had to to do it I didn’t really have a choice but I’m so glad I agreed.”

Having come to prominence through Brookside when he played Billy Corkhill for seven years, John has become a familiar face on our TV screens.

“I have been lucky throughout my career,” he said. “I’ve never had to take another job as I’ve never been out of work for longer than a few months, so I’ve been able to live a fairly decent life. I really can’t complain.

“It’s been mainly television but I’ve always tried to fit in theatre when I can.”

John is a patron of the Octagon in Bolton and has fond memories of the theatre.

“My favourite ever play is Two which I did at Bolton,” he said. “I got to know Jim Cartwright who wrote it and he has been a friend ever since.”

Being know for TV work can, John says, sometimes present problems for an actor going into the theatre.

“You can have that prejudice sometimes,” he said. “You get the sense that some people wait to see if you can do it on stage. But I certainly haven’t had that problem with Frantic Assembly, it’s been great.”

This summer John left Emmerdale after a hugely successful run as the gay handyman Ronnie, a portrayal which earned him huge amounts of praise.

“The thing I didn’t want to do was to play some camp stereotype,” said John. “I told the producers that before I even started in the role and they were happy with that.

“I got some great reaction from gay community who really appreciated that I was portraying the character the way I did.”

John has been surprised at the impact the storyline involving Ronnie and his partner Lawrence has had.

“We’ve been told that scenes of Ronnie and Lawrence are being shown in gay clubs in China so we may have a whole new fanbase,” he said.

Although Ronnie has left Emmerdale, John said he would love for the character to return to the soap at some point.

“I think they were going to kill me off at one point but then they decided against it,” he said.

“The producer said we might want you back at some point and I’d go back tomorrow - I loved working there.”

After the Lowry, Things I Know to be True tours the country before ending up in London in January.

“Hopefully being in London for a while will mean more casting people will see me in a different light,” he said.

Things I Know to Be True, the Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, October 3 to Saturday, October 7. Details from 0843 208 6005 or