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Action-packed extravaganza of family fun just perfect for a Christmas treat

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

Susan Penhaligon – above, with other cast members – stars as the Good Fairy iPod in Sleeping Beauty  at the Queen's Theatre,  Barnstaple

Susan Penhaligon – above, with other cast members – stars as the Good Fairy iPod in Sleeping Beauty at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple

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In a career spanning 40 years, Cornish-born actress Susan Penhaligon has done it all, performing every kind of role on stage as well as both large and small screens.

She's back here in the Westcountry to appear as the good fairy, Ipod, in Sleeping Beauty at the Queen's Theatre in Barnstaple.

"There's virtually nothing I haven't done," she says, "If you have a long career as I have, you have to continually reinvent yourself every decade."

Renowned for her stunning good looks, as a young actress she was never out of work, starring on TV as Prue in a Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Lucy in Dracula for the BBC and Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew for the BBC's Shakespeare season. More recently she appeared in Doctors and played the role of Jean Hope in Emmerdale.

She's hard pressed to name her all time favourite role, but says possibly her most enjoyable TV part was playing Judi Dench's sister Helen in four series of the award-winning sitcom A Fine Romance.

"That was such a great and classy series," she says. "It was a privilege to work with Judi, I learned so much.

For 15 years she worked non-stop.

"Some parts you win, some you lose – I won't say which I wasn't happy with – but occasionally you just have to walk away and think, 'Oh well, that didn't work' and carry on.

And she intends to "carry on" until she drops, pretty much.

"I can't ever see myself not doing it, if the Gods are with me and I can remember the lines. I've watched other actors on the stage in their eighties doing great things."

Actually, the parts seem to become more plentiful by that stage.

"It's between 40s and 60s that there's a dearth of parts for women. And women in drama are so typecast. I've played daughters, girlfriends, mistresses, wives, and grannies and somehow there seems to be a huge jump between being a wife and a granny!

"Nowadays, it's all about playing 'character' roles, especially on stage," says Susan. "But actually they can be much more interesting. I've just done a reading for a play about two ladies with dementia in an old folk's home who both think they played the part of St Joan the night Sybil Thorndike came to see the show. We're hoping to take it to Edinburgh…"

There can't be much more of a contrast between that and playing a good fairy in panto, so what attracted her to this one in particular?

"Well, I heard that Anthony Stuart-Hicks was playing the dame and he's so much fun," says Susan, "and of course it's so close to my Cornish roots. I'm staying in a beautiful cottage just down the road…

"Then I received the script, and it's lovely, with a real, proper story.

"When you have a big celebrity name in the cast the script has to be designed to weave them in, or there has to be an appropriate comedic slot, but because there isn't the big name we can focus on telling the story – which is great. It's really child orientated, exactly as it should be and it's absolutely magical.

"As well as the gorgeous prince and princess, and Anthony as Nellie Night Nurse, there's the wicked queen, Carabosse, played by Niki Evans, who is an X Factor finalist and has also been in Blood Brothers in the West End for three years."

The pantomime promises to be an action-packed extravaganza of family fun with stunning new sets, a brand new hilarious script and for the second year running it's being produced in-house, following the success of last year's in-house production of Robin Hood.

Sleeping Beauty starts at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple, tomorrow with a 2pm matinee and runs right through until January 4.

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