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Former Brookside and Loose Women star Claire Sweeney in panto in Tunbridge Wells

By Angela Cole

If former Brookside actor Claire Sweeney looks familiar in her panto costume for this Christmas, there’s a good reason.

The Benidorm actress, whose big break in showbusiness came back in 1991 when she played Lindsey Corkhill in the Channel 4 soap, played the same role last year in panto as she will in the Assembly Hall Theatre’s panto in Tunbridge Wells.

And she can’t wait, because Carabosse is a baddie - a role she relishes.

Claire Sweeney will be playing a baddie in panto in Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Matthew Walker
Claire Sweeney will be playing a baddie in panto in Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Matthew Walker

The actress and presenter has also carved out a career in musical theatre after leaving the ITV talkshow Loose Women, recently playing Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - a character she describes as “absolutely vile.”

“I loved Chitty,” she said. “That was one of the happiest jobs I have had. I was a baddie. I love being the baddie. I just love it!

“I don’t care about being booed. You can have fun with it. Kids love to be scared too.”

The mother of one said although her four-year-old son will watch her as a baddie, he will take it in his stride - and his presence has helped her, too.

Claire with Quinn Patrick in panto
Claire with Quinn Patrick in panto

“Having a four-year-old son has brought the magic back to it for me,” she said. “It isn’t just a Christmas job for me. He’s seen me as scary - in fact he’s only known me be scary!

“He knows we are just pretending. He feels like he is in on the secret.”

Pantos this Christmas across Kent: click here for our guide

After spending last Christmas in panto in Chatham - which she described as “lovely” - she is looking forward to winter in Tunbridge Wells.

“I am staying at a very nice hotel in Tunbridge Wells for some of the time. The theatre approached me and it’s a win, win for me as it’s also quite commutable and such a nice place. I don’t know Tunbridge Wells but I am looking forward to it. It ticked all the boxes for me.”

And how is life for Claire, touring with a little one at home - what about that vital day off for all panto actors - Christmas Day? “My mum will come over for Christmas Day and we’ll be at home. I’ll be cooking the lunch.”

Claire is a TV star as well as a musical theatre star today
Claire is a TV star as well as a musical theatre star today

Despite the gruelling schedule of shows throughout December and into the New Year, Claire’s not got a rest planned in January, though she does have a change of temperature in mind. She's going to be working on a cruise in the Caribbean in January.

In Sleeping Beauty, her character is a rather disgruntled fairy with a serious fear of missing out.

The wicked fairy godmother curses the princess when she misses out on an invitation to the christening. Following last year’s record breaking production of Aladdin, the theatre and Martin Dodd for UK Productions present the pantomime, directed by John-Jackson Almond.

The show promises to be packed with flying fairies, smash-hit songs, stunning sets, spectacular costumes, and magical special effects. And there could even be a fire-breathing dragon to look out for.

Joining Claire will be Derek Moran, who will be playing Silly Billy, and who is a regular on Channel 5’s Milkshake. Derek used to live in the county, in Maidstone, while he was a member of the chart topping band D-Side at the start of his career. He has been in panto with UK Productions for 10 years.

Quinn Patrick returns to the Assembly Hall Theatre for a second year to Tunbridge Wells as the dame, playing Nurse Nelly, after playing Widow Twankey in last year’s production.

DETAILS

Sleeping Beauty runs from Friday, December 7 to Wednesday, January 2. To book tickets from £15.50 for children and £24 for adults, call 01892 530613 or visit assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

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