St. Helens Theatre Royal
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Nothing beats a good panto. Whether you’re young, old or somewhere in between, a pantomime is a great experience filled with capers, music, dancing and a fair few risqué jokes! Sleeping Beauty is the next such panto on the agenda, as it heads to St. Helens Theatre Royal. Before the cast down their hats, frocks and capes, we spoke to two of the main players in Sleeping Beauty, Claire Sweeney and Warren Donnelly, who provided an insight into the show and their backgrounds in pantomime, theatre and beyond!
First of all, tell us about your roles in Sleeping Beauty.
Warren Donnelly: Well, I’m the King, a nice jolly King who rules the nice jolly Kingdom, but who unfortunately tangles with the evil Carabosse. So, it’s a very nice role, it’s a funny role, there’s lots of excitement and adventure, and I’m having a whale of a time doing it.
Claire Sweeney: I play the evil Queen Carabosse. She’s an absolute horror! She’s pure evil through and through, but by the end of the show, she sees the light and becomes good!
What previous pantomime experience do the two of you have?
Warren: There have been many, many great pantomimes. They’re always great.
Claire: We’ve had one together; we did a panto together at the Liverpool Empire, so it’s nice to be back working together again!
Warren: The one thing about a panto is that there’s nothing else quite like it, so it’s all good fun.
Claire, what led to your big break playing Lindsey Corkhill on Brookside in 1989?
Claire: I simply auditioned and got the part. That was it, really. I was a singer before that. I’d done loads and loads of singing, and I hadn’t done any acting. Brookside was my first acting role, so I kind of learned on the job.
Warren, tell us about your career prior to earning the role of Stan Waterman in Shameless.
Warren: I was very lucky. I was just an actor auditioning for lots of things, doing a lot of theatre shows and some bits of television, and out of the blue, an audition came through for Shameless for what was meant to be one episode, and it carried on from there.
Claire, since leaving Brookside, you’ve appeared on many television programmes including Celebrity Big Brother and Loose Women. What were some of your highlights from this period of your career?
Claire: The highlight of my career was performing in Guys and Dolls on the West End, working opposite Patrick Swayze. That was definitely my career highlight.
As you mention, you’ve also built up quite the theatre career. which productions stand out as being particularly significant for you, and what is the difference between performing in a major theatre show and performing in a pantomime?
Claire: I suppose there is a lot more discipline in a major stage show, as it’s a lot more regimental and stricter. We do need some discipline when performing a panto, but there is more freedom to go off-script and have a little bit more fun, I suppose. You also break the fourth wall with panto; you turn and talk to the audience, whereas when I was performing in Tell Me On A Sunday or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you don’t stop to talk to the audience.
Warren, you’ve also appeared in other television shows and movies. How was the experience of being on set for Going Off Big Time and Millions?
Warren: It was good fun. Going Off Big Time was really fun to shoot. It was the same with Millions; to be honest with you, for all the acting experience that I’ve had, I haven’t had too many bad ones. It’s good to be working, and it’s good to be doing a variety of things in panto and film. They’ve all got their own disciplines; they’re all about working hard and having fun. If you’re an actor performing and you’re working with nice people, you’ve got nothing to complain about!
Warren, you recently played Geoff Smith in Holby City. What are your future plans within television?
Warren: I’m doing a television job immediately after this pantomime, and then after that, who knows? It’s the life of an actor; you go from job to job or you don’t, but you’re constantly looking for work, you’re constantly pushing yourself and promoting yourself, and you see what happens. It’s not like a lot of careers where you know what you’re doing from one week to the next, or from one month to the next. Quite often, you don’t know. You might think that you’re doing nothing, and then you get one phone call from your agent and suddenly you’re mad busy. So, I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve always done, and that’s keeping on, as the old cliché goes.
Finally, tell us why people should come along to St. Helens Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty?
Claire: Well, first of all, it’s half term, so it’s something great for the kids to do during half term, which is lovely! I have to say that the cast is phenomenal. I’ve been working with them all; Warren is a brilliant actor anyway, but the rest of the cast has just great talent. It’s a beautiful show, there are great songs in it, and there’s lots of laughter in it. I just think it’s something brilliant for the kids to do during half term.
Warren: What always amazes me is that even though we’re living in 2017, where children are so sophisticated, what the children and families still like is a good story that is well-told. There’s songs, there’s dances and there’s loads of audience participation. Also, the Theatre Royal up here in St. Helens is lovely; it’s a hidden gem. So over half time, why not get your kids out, take them to see a very good show, and you never know, they might decide in years to come to do a bit of acting, singing and dancing themselves. I used to go to pantos myself as a little boy, and I used to love it, so why not get them out of the house and see our show!
Sleeping Beauty runs at St. Helens Theatre Royal from Saturday October 21 to Sunday October 29. To book your tickets, click here.