Former Emmerdale star talks driving, elasticated waists and Jamie Oliver with Katherine MacAlister.

If you’re addicted to Waterloo Road, like numerous teenagers and their parents around the country, then you’ll know Lisa Riley as Scout’s neglectful mother. On the other hand, if you’re an Emmerdale fan, you will forever remember her as Mandy Dingle.

Add Fat Friends, Young Dracula, Vagina Monologues, and You’ve Been Framed to her CV and you begin to realise how diverse Lisa is, going from blushing soap star sweetheart to abusive council house mum without even blinking. That’s why she hasn’t been out of work since graduating from drama school. In fact, the 35-year-old had to skip the next series of Waterloo Road to snap up her current part in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, coming to Oxford’s Playhouse on Tuesday.

“After Emmerdale I was always sent the part of the tart with a heart,” Lisa sighs, “and people will put you in envelopes, which is why I held out for Fat Friends because it’s not until you do something different that they accept you.

“But when I’m out and about I still get called Mandy all the time, as well as Scout’s mum, and people come up and ask how I can leave my children. They really believe Waterloo Road is true, which is weird.”

But then Lisa is utterly convincing in every part she plays, often basing her characters on locals near her home in Bury, so who can blame them? Take her part as Scout’s mum: “If you’re a mum on the Salford Estate you don't wear make-up. Yes I may look like a minger, but if I’m a bit Jeremy Kyle I’ve got it just right. Do it properly or don’t do it at all. Anything else is pure vanity.”

Which is really how Lisa lives her life. In Little Voices she has based her character Sadie on a girl in Bury whose life follows the same pattern everyday. “She goes to the library at 10am before helping with the tea trolley in an old people’s home, and I’ve taken a bit of that for Sadie. I also wear a skirt with an elastic waistband pulled right up, but if you’ve got to look hideous it gets you respect in the end.”

Getting naked on stage for Calendar Girls didn’t daunt Lisa either, even when her modesty relied on a very carefully placed ladle: “I felt like a popstar every night because everyone in the audience screamed and cheered when I got naked,” she smiles, “so I’m going back to Calendar Girls in January, before carrying on with Waterloo Road.”

But while everything Lisa does at work is taken on the chin, her private life is just that. “My life is my life and my work and my life are separate,” she explains. Which is why the sheer mention of the words ‘reality TV’ means the storm clouds gather. “I didn’t go to drama school to eat cockroaches,” she says in no uncertain terms, “and I’ve always managed to pay my tax bill. But yes I’ve been asked to be on all of them; Big Brother, Masterchef, I’m A Celebrity, driving...”

Driving? “Everybody is allowed one achilles heel,” she smiles “and mine is that I can’t drive. I had lots of lessons but then I’d go off and do a play and when I got back I’d forgotten everything I’d learned. After the third set of lessons my driving instructor gently said he wasn’t sure if driving was for me, but maybe one day.”

This doesn’t deter Lisa from returning home whenever she can. “Because I don’t drive, I take lifts and use public transport instead, but I still come home whenever I can. I had a day off and came up from Plymouth last week.”

That Lisa is a Northener and proud of her roots is an understatement, yet she’s delighted to be coming to Oxford. So what’s the excitement? “I’ve wanted to do Little Voice for years, but I also love Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, next to the theatre, and I go every time I’m in town,” she grins.

* The Rise and Fall of Little Voice opens on Tuesday. Box Office on 01865 305305 or oxford