AN EAST Lancashire actor is swapping Accrington Broadway for its New York namesake with a starring role in Brief Encounter.

From September, Joe Alessi, 46, stars as both Fred and Albert in the Noel Coward tale, made famous by the 1945 film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

The new Kneehigh Theatre Production, incorporating songs and digital projections, has already played to packed out audiences across the UK and in Brooklyn, San Francisco and Minneapolis, winning rave reviews.

Former Accrington and Rossendale College pupil Joe said: “I always think that other people, like firemen and surgeons have proper jobs, and I’m just messing about.

“But when we’ve been on tour, I’ve had pensioners coming up to me saying that in 60 years of watching plays and going to the cinema, they have never been so touched by a performance.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to affect people in that way. I always say I have the best job in the world and can’t believe I get paid for it!”

Joe was brought up by his Sicilian parents Angela and Giuseppe in Whalley Road, Accrington, and discovered a love of acting when he joined the Blackburn Arts Club in the early 1980s.

He then quit his job at the Lord John pub in Blackburn town centre to start a new theatre studies course at Accrington and Rossendale College, also attended by Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh.

In 1987 he was awarded a Lancashire County Council grant to study at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and has worked in plays around the world for the past 20 years.

In 2000 he was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance as Chico Marx in Animal Crackers in the West End.

He said: “I really owe a large debt to Lancashire County Council for the grant!

“Although I now live in London I come back up North quite regularly and I still consider the North West my home.

“You can’t take Lancashire out of this lad.”

It's not the only Brief Encounter link to Lancashire - the famous train station scenes in the 1945 classic film version were shot on location in Carnforth.