Interview: Claire Sweeney


Claire Sweeney talks about motherhood, Mars Bars, and more, ahead of the Scottish run of smash hit musical, Hairspray.

Image of Interview: Claire Sweeney
Photos: Ellie Kurttz

Ahead of the major new UK tour of the smash hit musical Hairspray, coming to Edinburgh Playhouse and Eden Court in Inverness, The Wee Review grabs a quick ten minutes with Claire Sweeney who stars as Velma von Tussle.

Sweeney first came to prominence with her long-running role as Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside. Since leaving the soap in 2003, Claire has gone on to find great acclaim on stage with roles in Chicago, Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde: The Musical, Educating Rita, Guys and Dolls, Tell Me on a Sunday, as well as the world tour of Fosse. Claire has also found great popularity as a television presenter and panellist in shows such as 60 Minute Makeover, Loose Women and more recently as a presenter on Magic FM where she hosted a musical theatre-themed show. Talking of musical theatre…

How’s the tour going?

We’re currently in Sheffield and loving it.

You were here at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012 starring in Educating Rita at Assembly, playing opposite Matthew Kelly. Have you been back since?

I was back here last year in a play I wrote with Mandy Muden called Sex in Surburbia which was on at the Playhouse.

So you’re playing Velma von Tussle in this production. Can you refresh our memories about your character?

She’s a racist, fascist person and is great fun to play! She’s got great costume changes and I wear a wig.

I’m always intrigued with how actors cope with tours? Where do you stay?

I normally try to stay in apartments when I’m on tour, and have often used the ones near Ocean Terminal, but I’m staying near the station this time to be more central.

How do you cope with juggling motherhood and being on tour?

Well, I have a great nanny to help out! Jaxon’s only 16 months so can come and play in the dressing room if I’m at rehearsals. And because I don’t have to be at the theatre until 6pm each night, I get to spend the day with him.

And what about keeping fit and healthy on tour?

I don’t have time to go to the gym, as I prefer to spend time with my baby, but we have a 20 minute warm-up before each performance which includes movement and warming up the voice.

And what about if you get a cold and feel ill?

I’m old school and just soldier on.

And how does it work with understudies?

Well, there are occasions when an understudy has to come on but they’re part of the chorus anyway so can easily slot in. In fact, I’m off to rehearsal this afternoon, due to some cast changes because of illness, and my understudy had to cover for me at Christmas when my father died.

What’s an average day like?

There isn’t necessarily one, but I don’t have to be at the theatre until 6pm each evening – obviously earlier when there’s a matinee – so I try to get out and about. I like to find a library, as there’s always lots going on, especially with a little one in tow. We don’t tend to get a day off as you’re normally spending the next day travelling to the next city. So I’ve just been in Aberdeen (1-6 February) and then we had to travel to Sheffield (8-13 February) for the next part of the tour so there’s not a lot of down-time.

So having spent time in Edinburgh, have you any favourite haunts?

Not particularly but I do love the Urban Angel.

And have you ever tried a deep Fried Mars Bar?

No, and I’ve no desire to either! [You’re not missing anything Claire!]

Do you have any plans for when the tour finishes?

I will have been on tour for 40 weeks by the end of the tour so I’m going to take the summer to regroup and work out what I want to do next.

And on that note… it’s time to finish the interview so Claire can regroup and spend some quality time with her son before her evening performance in Sheffield.

Hairspray is @ Edinburgh Playhouse, from Mon 22 – Sat 27 Feb; and
@ Eden Court, Inverness, from Mon 29 Feb – Sat 5 Mar