Joe Gill: What came next for the actor who played Finn Barton in Emmerdale

Joe Gill left his role as Finn Barton in Emmerdale to try his hand at playing different characters. That aspiration is one certainly being fulfilled in new play By the Waters of Liverpool. Chris Burn reports.

When Joe Gill decided to leave Emmerdale in 2017 after four years of playing Finn Barton, he hoped to spread his wings. That ambition is certainly being met in his new play, By the Waters of Liverpool, where he and the other eight-strong cast play more than 50 characters between them.

The ensemble stage production is based on the autobiography of the same name by acclaimed author Helen Forrester. It is set in the 1930s after Helen’s father went bankrupt during the Depression and her family were forced to leave behind the nannies, servants and comfortable middle-class life in the South West of England and rebuild their shattered lives in Liverpool.

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Gill’s main role in the show is as Helen’s love interest Harry O’Dwyer, but he also has plenty of other characters to juggle during the show, whose national tour this autumn will be visiting Halifax and Darlington.

Joe Gill and Emma MulliganJoe Gill and Emma Mulligan
Joe Gill and Emma Mulligan

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of the show’s tour opening in Liverpool earlier this week, Gill explains: “Emma Mulligan who plays Helen is the only actor who plays one character. The rest of us are dipping in and out of different characters with different expressions and physical traits.

"It is really fun as an actor to do.

"I have quite a big role towards the end of the play as Helen’s love interest Harry O’Dwyer. That’s probably if you come and watch the play what you might remember me doing most. But I also play Nick, who is a Cockney pimp and not a very nice man at all. He is very far from Harry. I also play a detective, a bailiff, an office worker and things like that.

"They are small roles you come on for and you might change a hat and a pair of shoes, put on a moustache and you are good to go again.

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Joe GillJoe Gill
Joe Gill

"It is really fun but as a cast we have to be absolutely on it in regards to knowing where we are. What the audience don’t see is backstage where everything has to be quite meticulous. You’ve got to be constantly on it and there’s no time to rest really.”

The 29-year-old Mancunian says the experience is a new one in his professional career.

"At drama college it is something you work on and do a few ensemble pieces. But so far in my career I’ve not actually been part of anything like this. It is definitely a challenge but I love to act and the beauty is you get to do eight or nine different roles.

"Due to the fact that quite a few of us play more than one character it gives a real knowledge of the story because you have the perspective of all the characters. You can be the same person playing two characters who don’t like each other so you get both sides of the story.

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"I’ve done a lot of prep in regards to the characters I’m playing. I bring my ideas to Gareth the director and he fine tunes them to say what works and what doesn’t work. It is really interesting trying to get all the pieces to fit together.”

Gill played Finn, the ‘brainy’ Barton brother, in Emmerdale between 2013 and 2017 and his character’s death after being accidentally shot by his mum came as a shock to fans. But he had made his mind up to leave the show several months earlier.

He reflects: "I really enjoyed my time at Emmerdale. I joined when I was 19 and I still remember the day I got the part – I cried my eyes out.

"I had four-and-a-half really good fun years that taught me a lot.

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"It came with a lot of pressure in that everything had to be done by certain days because places like Emmerdale have to work like clockwork.

"The theatre is miles different in terms of your performance. On TV they say you can do things with a look whereas on stage you have to portray things in a more exaggerated fashion, your physicality is different and your voice is a lot more important.

"With TV, if you mess it up you can go again. In theatre you can’t. I really enjoy both mediums and being on stage is electrifying."

He says the decision to leave Emmerdale was a difficult one.

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"I did think about it for a good few months and spoke to my agent at the time and a good few close family members.

"Because I was still young, I learnt my craft really on the show and hadn’t really done much else professionally at all. It was a hard decision and I did have a really great on-screen family and am still really close to the two guys who played my brothers, Anthony Quinlan and Michael Parr.

"I left knowing I would miss it. But I left for the reason of doing stuff like this really. It is bittersweet.

"I’m massively appreciative for everything it did for me at an early age. The reasons I left were purely professional. After I came out, I did The Full Monty tour and that was great. We did over 250 shows through all the big theatres in the country and that really got my desire to do more theatre going.

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"You have to remember in this industry it doesn’t always go your way and it owes you nothing. But there are always exciting opportunities. The beauty of this is three months ago I had no idea I would be doing a play in Liverpool but here I am.”

He says he hopes the show’s powerful themes will resonate with audiences.

"The play is basically about a young woman stifled of opportunity and not seen for what she really is. Her wings are completely clipped. I play a character at the end who sees her for what she really is and her potential. I hope audiences take away the message of self-confidence and believing in yourself and others. It is a really beautiful piece.”

Gill says he is particularly looking forward to the Halifax leg of the tour.

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"My dad and all his family is from Middleton just outside of Leeds. Leeds was always my second city even before Emmerdale. I’ve always had a soft spot for the city and my mum now lives in Hebden Bridge. So when we are in Halifax I can stay at my mum’s. I’m really looking to Halifax – when we toured there with The Full Monty it was one of the best audiences.”

His desire to vary his acting career is certainly bearing fruit, with the Manchester United fan having recently featured in a Sky Bet advert alongside his footballing hero Roy Keane.

"Roy Keane is my absolute idol. I thought he would appear on set, do his lines and go but he was a gentleman. He stayed with us all day, was telling us stories and was a really nice, kind man. He was really funny as well.”

He has also finished shooting his first debut feature film called Treading Water in which he plays a prisoner struggling to adapt to returning to society.

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"It is about a young lad who comes out of Strangeways Prison and it is a very gritty Northern piece. It couldn’t be more different from playing Finn Barton in Emmerdale. It is something audiences won’t have seen from me before. My character has very graphic intrusive thoughts and drug problems. He ends up falling in love with a girl who is involved with a drug dealer and it kicks off from there. I’m nervous about it but also excited and hope it lands well.”

By The Waters Of Liverpool will be at Darlington Hippodrome on September 29 and 30 and the Victoria Theatre in Halifax on October 16 and 17. Visit