She’s vile, says Claire Sweeney. Absolutely vile.
As far as Claire is concerned, there really are no redeeming features to Velma Von Tussle, her role in the hit musical Hairspray which tours to Southampton’s Mayflower from November 16-21.
It’s Baltimore, 1962, where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV. Tracy’s audition makes her a local star, and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality, bagging local heartthrob Link Larkin along the way. But standing in her way is foul Velma: “She’s just vile,” says Claire, with evident enjoyment. “She is fascist. She is racist. She is just everything… but in the end, she ends up joining in. She just thinks if you can’t beat them, join them! Really I think she is just a product of her environment. She is very pushy with her daughter. There is no story of a partner or whatever. She is a single mum. Lauren, who is wonderful as my daughter in the show, often says to me when we are off mic ‘Mommy, who’s my daddy!’ But we don’t know, and Velma is just horrible!”
The production, which tours until May, is a new one, and Claire is delighted to be part of it: “We have been going for two and a half months – and I am just so proud of it. It is one of the most talented casts I have ever worked with. You have got a wonderful script and a brilliant story with a really good message about integration and about being who you are. And you have got all these fab songs that just stay in your memory afterwards.
“The production has changed. I remember when I saw it in the West End, it was wonderful, but it was a bit light and frothy. I think this new production brings out more the message about integration and accepting your own individuality. It’s just wonderful.”
Claire, whose work has included Brookside, Clocking Off, Merseybeat and Candy Cabs, comes to the show off the back of a string of great theatre parts.
Her West End roles have included Roxie Hart in Chicago and Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, playing opposite Patrick Swayze. Claire also played the title role in Educating Rita alongside Matthew Kelly and prior to that, played Paulette in the UK tour of the award-winning Legally Blonde. In 2011, she starred in the one-woman show Tell Me on a Sunday: “I have been really lucky,” she says. She admits she was probably an obvious choice for Educating Rita. But I am certainly not for this one! But Educating Rita was fantastic, working with the gorgeous Willie Russell and the lovely Matthew Kelly. We had such a great time.”
Legally Blonde was another cracker – and maybe one with similarities to Hairspray: “It has probably got the same kind of feel-good factor. But this is lovely. In this one you haven’t got the whole thing on your shoulders like with Tell Me on a Sunday.”
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