Just how evil? “Oh, very evil” promises Claire Sweeney, who will bring plenty of icy venom to the role of the Ice Queen in Santa Claus, The Musical, the festive treat at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre this year.
In a break from pantos, the venue is offering instead a Christmas musical – and Claire is relishing the prospect.
“I did White Christmas last year, which was created by the same people, and it was a beautiful show.”
She’s done her share of pantos in her time and often works at Christmas. She’s decidedly frank about the reason why this time round.
“I have got a tax bill in January,” she laughs.
“But it is also a joy to be part of a Christmas show or panto. I remember going to see pantos as a child, and I remember loving it. And it is so important. You have got to remember that for a lot of the children it will be the first time that they have been in a theatre, and you have got to try to make sure that they come back!”
It wasn’t, however, panto which decided Claire on her showbiz career.
It was seeing Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. She can’t quite remember who was playing Mrs Johnstone at the time, possibly Barbara Dickson. But she most definitely remembers the impact.
“I could relate to it. It’s a show from my home town. It has got wonderful music, but it is also a proper story.”
And it was that that set her on her own showbiz path – something she was delighted to tell Willy Russell when she toured in his Educating Rita.
“I told him ‘You are to blame!’ He just laughed!”
Claire comes to the Christmas show on the back of an autumn tour of a play by another playwright she admires, John Godber, who directed her and John Thomson in his own bittersweet comedy September in the Rain.
The piece charts the life of Yorkshire couple Jack and Liz through their annual summer holiday jaunt across the Pennines to Blackpool, which has been a ritual for over 40 years. It’s the golden age of donkey rides, talent contests, saucy postcards, stripy deckchairs, ice cream, rolled-up trousers and knotted hankies.
“It was an absolute joy,” Claire says. “He was writing stuff for us. The couple start off as 60, and then they go back in time. It’s great fun to do.”
The piece is a two-hander, which is much in keeping with the plays Claire has done: “I have done three plays and they have all been two-handers.”
Claire trained at the Eliot Clark Stage School in Liverpool and the Italia Conti Stage School in London. Her work since then has included playing the regular character of Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside, the fiery character Katrina in the award-winning drama Clocking Off, Roz in BBC1’s hit drama Merseybeat, and the character of Amanda in BBC1’s comedy drama Candy Cabs.
She has also enjoyed success as a television presenter, Claire authored a one-hour primetime documentary for ITV1 called Claire Sweeney: My Big Fat Diet. She presented four series of
60 Minute Make-over (ITV1) and hosted Saturday night shows Here Comes the Sun (BBC1) and Challenge of a Lifetime (ITV1). She has also presented three live specials called I’m Famous and Frightened for Living TV as well as appeared in the first and most successful series of Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother.
Santa Claus, The Musical is at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre from December 11 until January 5 2014. Tickets are available from Worthing Theatres on 01903 206206 or online at www.worthingtheatres.co.uk.