20 Questions: Mother Goose's Sharon D Clarke - 'It's West End standard at East End prices'
The longtime star of Hackney Empire panto reveals her proudest moments and why she'd like to have dinner with Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou
1. Where and when were you born?
I'm a Londoner, born in 1965 of Jamaican parents. I grew up in Tottenham.
2. What made you want to be a performer?
I was six years old and a friend of mine was attending a dance school in Clapton. I asked if I could go with her. From the first class to the first performance, I was hooked. I'd found my 'thing', and knew it was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
3. If you hadn't become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
My training is in Social Work. Knowing that this can be a precarious business, I trained in my other passion. I'm very much a people person. From a young age, people have always come to me with something that is worrying them. I often leave a bus journey with someone's life story.
4. First big break?
A musical called Southside at Battersea Arts Centre directed by Jude Kelly. It was my first professional audition. I got the job, and I got my Equity card. I was on my way.
5. Proudest moment?
There are three. I was in the pop group Nomad, and we were supporting Kylie at Wembley. The crowd were shouting "Kylie! Kylie!" But halfway through our first number they started shouting "Nomad! Nomad!" What a buzz. Being cast as Killer Queen in We Will Rock You as she certainly wasn't written for a big, black actress - it was also the first role I originated in the West End. And receiving the Olivier for The Amen Corner. Deep joy!
6. Who are you idols?
Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Maya Angelou, my Mum.
7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
The Amen Corner at the Tricycle Theatre in 1987 directed by Anton Phillips. To see beautiful writing, with strong, meaty black female roles was/is a rare thing. And there was singing! It was a seminal piece for me, I saw it 6 times.
8. And the last?
The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic and Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse. Both are very creative, innovative productions with fab staging and choreography, moving storylines and a fantastic cast.
9. What's your dream role?
It was always to play Effie in Dreamgirls, but I'm too old to play her now, So now I'm open to any fantastic offers :-)
10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Know your shit and remember you're part of a team.
11. What is it that makes the Hackney panto unqiue?
Hackney panto has the McKenna touch. She's not been called the Doyenne of Panto for nothing. Susie doesn't compromise or send panto up. Her work is very detailed, is story driven, (if the five year-olds don't understand the story what's the point). She respects the artform and strives for excellence. She has built her team over the years and we are a family who look forward to coming together to have fun and tell the story. It's West End standard at East End prices.
12. Tell us more about your character this year, Charity?
Charity is the Good Enchantress and sister of the evil witch Vanity. She's a funky soul diva who's all about peace, love and harmony.
13. Favourite moment in the show?
The song "Hope" in act two where Mother Goose realises in her zeal for youth, beauty and wealth, she has lost herself, and the admiration and love of those she loves. It's a Steve Edis classic. A glorious melody which encompasses the heart and message of the show. And it's a joy to sing.
14. What do you hope people take away from the show?
Though the grass may seem greener on the other side, stay true to and honour yourself. and love conquers all.
15. Any pre-show routines that help you get into character?
I don't really have a set routine. I like having a company warm-up, and the act of getting ready in the half, puts me in the performance zone.
16. Any interesting audience experiences over the years?
Looking out on a matinee performance of Mother Goose '08 and seeing amongst the front row, a Muslim woman in full burka with four kids, a young white woman breastfeeding her baby, two elderly Jamaican women, a young Chinese family, sitting next to each other, all rocking with laughter as one. And being so proud of the multi-cultural audience that the Hackney Panto regularly draws.
17. How do you unwind?
Bra off and a large glass of rosé.
18. If you could go to dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. Strong, charismatic people who came through much adversity and retained their positive and inspirational outlook on life.
19. Favourite theatre anecdote?
In the early days of Hackney panto when Susie used to beg, steal and borrow anything, she got some animal heads for the kids to wear in the woodland scene. Well... they arrived on tech day, Susie hadn't seen them, until they came on stage to dance around Cinderella (played by the beautiful Helen Latham), who was singing "Colours Of The Wind". As they arrived one by one on stage, and circled around her, they totally engulfed her, because they were so big. Tony Whittle leaned across the production desk and said, "Bloody hell Suse, where'dya get them animals... Chernobyl?!" Needless to say new hats and ears were swiftly made.
20. What's next?
In the new year I'll be at The Rose Theatre in Kingston playing The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
For more on this year's pantomimes, visit WhatsOnStage.com/Panto