Crazy For You's Claire Sweeney swaps Brookside Close for the wild west
Known best perhaps for playing Brookside's Lindsey Corkhill, Claire Sweeney's causing just as much trouble as bridezilla Irene in the classic musical Crazy For You, at the Ipswich Regent from Tuesday.
Not one for soaps, even I was aware of Channel 4’s Brookside. Claire was at the centre of many dramas during the series’ 21-year run, causing no end of trouble for her equally troubling parents Jimmy and Jackie - be it affairs, becoming an accidental drugs mule and getting involved in organised crime.
It was a seminal series going where many of its contemporaries wouldn’t.
Set in Liverpool, it was created by Phil Redmond, the visionary behind Grange Hill and later Hollyoaks. Known for its realistic and socially controversial plot lines, it regularly attracted millions of viewers.
During the mid-1990s, stories pushed the boundaries further, broadcasting the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British TV as well as the Jordache family wife-beating and child abuse storyline which ended in murder.
“It was more gritty and they touched on real subjects that no one dared touch,” recalls Claire. “Lesbians, bodies being buried, drugs... it was a bit more of a hard-hitting drama than light fluffy soap. It was really groundbreaking. All the soaps have gone down that route and are more daring now.
“It was wonderful but I don’t there’s any chance of it coming back. If it did of course I’d consider it, I loved it. It was a massive part of my life but I don’t think it’s on the cards.”
The dramas I remember more involved her stint hosting the daytime interior design show 60 Minute Makeover.
“I used to think ‘this is great telly, we’ve got a bit of drama here’. I loved the jeopardy in the show, that’s what it was about, beating that jeopardy,” recalls the actress.
She’s enjoying a coffee, then a late breakfast in a little café before a matinee performance of Crazy For You in which she plays Irene, who pursues her reluctant groom-to-be to the wild wild west.
She laughs when I ask if she’s kept up the DIY skills she learnt. “Not really, I’m too busy putting me fishnets on, hoofing around the country.”
Three-year-old son Jaxon, whom she had with her ex-partner Daniel Reilly, keeps her busy too.
“He’s divine. I was in London all last week, then I came here Tuesday and I’m back home Saturday night which is hard. Then I’m in London all week next week after that and then he’s coming with me the week after, so I make sure I’m not apart from him for too long.
“You just do what you’ve got to do, I don’t know any different. I’ve done it on my own since the beginning and it’s fine. I’m blessed. I’m alright, I’m working, I’m earning, got a roof over our head, we’re all healthy so we’re okay.”
Hard work is second nature to Claire, who was 14 when she performed her first singing gig in her native Liverpool; earning the princely sum of £25.
Aside from playing Brookie’s Lindsey Corkhill, she’s sung on cruise ships, released an album and won rave reviews for roles in musicals including Hairspray, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Tell Me On A Sunday. Last year she filmed Benidorm.
“I love a live audience but that was wonderful, to go away and do that, go back to TV which I haven’t done for a while. I like the variety of both really, doing it all.”
Despite being in the business so long, and everything that can come with being in the spotlight, Claire’s as chirpy as she seems on TV.
“I love what I do, I genuinely love the business. On my night off I’ll go to the theatre to watch a show. When you’ve got that love for it and it’s not just a job, it keeps you going. I’m blessed in the fact that when I do have Jaxon with me I’m not in work until six in the evening so I get all day with him, which is wonderful.”
Crazy For You isn’t your run of the mill musical.
“I’ve never done it before. It’s a beautiful show. What’s wonderful about it is there’s no orchestra, all the actors play the instruments. I’m one of the lucky ones who comes out, does a number and gets off,” she laughs.
It tells the troubled tale of Bobby, son of a wealthy New York banking family and frustrated Broadway hoofer. Sent to close down a failing theatre in Deadrock, Nevada, he falls for the owner’s daughter Polly so disguises himself as a Hungarian impresario and decides to save it by putting on a show.
Claire’s starting to find humour in the character who, she confesses, can be a bit bolshy.
“She’s a snob really. She wants to marry this guy. She’s got it all booked, she’s got 900 guests coming and Bobby doesn’t want to do it; he’s getting forced into it by his mother and her. She goes to find him out in the wild wild west and she ends up falling for a bit of a cowboy really.”
Mistaken identities, heartbreak, happiness and a wealth of memorable tunes, including I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Embraceable You all feature.
“It has all the Gershwins’ best songs which are wonderful, there’s humour, and the company is quite amazing” adds Claire, who co-stars alongside Strictly Come Dancing champion Tom Chambers as Bobby and Charlotte Wakefield as Polly.
See it at the Ipswich Regent, February 20-24.