Actress Claire Connor has just landed one of her biggest roles to date in the forth coming production of Dancing Shoes - The George Best Story.
Ballymoney mum of two, Claire will play George’s mum Ann at the Belfast Grand Opera House show which runs from August 19-29.
It’s a role she is relishing as the Dancing Shoes tells of the turbulent and colourful life of one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen.
However, it could have all been so different for this former Dalriada pupil as she found herself on holidays when the auditions were being held.
“At the end of May I had just finished a show and I decided to book a family holiday before I started ‘The Holy, Holy Bus’ at the Lyric Theatre,” explained Claire.
“Off we went on holidays and two days later I received an email from my agent saying I had an audition for Dancing Shoes and I was totally devastated to miss out on this great opportunity.
“I then got another email a couple of days before I was due to come home saying ‘Claire, they have auditioned a number of girls but they still haven’t found someone that fits the role so you have an audition when you come home on Tuesday.’”
No sooner had Claire and her family arrived home until she had the pressure of preparing for the all important audition.
“We got home in the early hours of Monday morning and found myself with seven scenes and a song to learn. I learned the seven scenes on Monday night and the song on the car on the way up to Belfast.
“It wasn’t exactly the most ideal preparation and my nerves were really kicking in.
“I was going in to meet a really famous director from Dublin, Peter Sheridan and writter Marie Jones, both of whom I revere and I thought my nerves are totally wrecked, I can hardly breathe.
“My friend Peter Quigley was dying of cancer at that time and as I stood in the lift in the Europa Hotel, wracked with nerves I said to myself ‘This is for Peter, get yourself together, you’re not trying to cure cancer, this is a wee job, sort yourself out and put it into perspec tive.
“So I got myself together, went up did my audition and I was really calm and knew I had done a good audition.
“That evening I got a message from my agent to say ‘this is urgent, ring me asap’. I started quaking thinkin g could it be, could it be and when I rang him he said good news you’ve got the part. I was over the moon.”
Although Dancing Shoes was first performed two years ago in the Grand Opera House when it was a massive hit, Claire didn’t get the opportunity to see it.
“I’m glad I didn’t see it the first time because it means I can make the part my own,” Claire added. “If I had seen it I might have tried to emulate the actress who had the role the first time and as an actor you have to live and breathe the character in your way.
“You have to be truthful to how you feel and that is exactly what the director said when he was giving me notes at the audition.
“He was amazing, he said ‘Claire imagine what it was like in that era, there were no mobile phones, he was 15 years old and he’s leaving on that boat and you didn’t know what would happen.’ That inspired me so much when I was reading my lines.”
Claire won’t just have the part of Ann Best to play, she also gets the opportunity to play one of the world’s best known pop stars.
“The show is multi-roling and I also play the part of pop star Cher,” she explained.
“I didn’t know it but George’s wife Angie Best was Cher’s beauty therapist and there’s a fantastic scene where Cher tells Angie to ditch George because he’s a loser and all he wants is the bottom of the bottle.
“It’s really fun and colourful and it is a great contrast to the part of his mother which is quite challenging.
“You see Ann from a time when George is kicking a ball as a youngster to him going to Manchester to her not being able to cope with him being away and turning to drink and that famous Cookstown sausage advert when she is really struggling.”
Joining a cast who have already enjoyed a very successful run with the show could be quite daunting, however, this talented local lass takes it all in her stride.
“The good thing is I more or less know all the cast and have worked with most of them before,” commented Claire.
“The role of George’s mother is an amazing role to play. It is very challenging and there will be a lot of pressure but its very exciting.
“We have three weeks rehearsal because it is a remount but I have big time pressure because I have never done it before and I’m learning everything from scratch but luckily I learn lines pretty quickly. I’m in the Lyric until 11th July and then I have two weeks off before I start rehearsals for Dancing Shoes so I will have a look at the script and hopefully get off book before I go in.
“However, for the first two weeks of rehearsal I’ll also be performing in Holy, Holy Bus as well so it will be hectic and I will hardly get to see my family but it will be worth it.
“My husband John is very proud of me as it’s such a big role and he has always given me tremendous support.”
“This will be my first time on the Grand Opera House stage which is so exciting.
“It’s been on my list of things to do before I’m 40 and I’m now 38 so I’m absolutely delighted.
“I’ve also done the Lyric Theatre which is amazing. I just love what I do, it makes me so happy, all I want to do it to keep working in quality productions like this.”