It was a little disconcerting to be confronted with four interviewees when I had been expecting a one to one session and I felt a bit outnumbered, but it wasn’t long before Claire Sweeney took the floor in her down-to-earth happy and enthusiastic manner.

I wondered what had winkled her out of the West End playing Adelaide to Patrick Swayze’s Nathan Detroit in the hit show Guys and Dolls. “It was part of me deal,” she replied, laughing. (She laughs a lot) “No, seriously. I was honoured when they asked me to start the tour off, but I was really concerned about who was going to play Nathan and I was so relieved and pleased when I heard it was going to be Joe (McGann) ‘cos he’s a great actor. There’s only one thing I was concerned about—he’s a Liverpool fan!”

More laughter from both—they are obviously enjoying each other’s company, and are quite surprised that they had never met before this show as they both grew up in a rough and ready area of Liverpool. Being, in her words, “A Touring Virgin”—it remains to be seen whether she will enjoy life on the road (it’s a very long tour) but she’s particularly looking forward to their time in Glasgow, which she considers “a vibrant exciting city”, and having spent four years performing on cruise liners she must be used to travelling.

With Patrick Swayze and Adam Cooper in the show in the West End, I had expected it to be an ‘all singing, all dancing’ production. Not so: “It’s more focused around the drama and the script, and the songs and dance are really just an extension of the speech,” explained Claire. “The musical show had become a bit of a caricature, but Michael Grandage (the original director at the Donmar) wanted to take it back to the Runyan stories, and he went to Frank Loesser’s widow’s house as he had to win her over to give the rights to put the production on in London, and there was a picture on her piano of Loesser with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin. They’re in a club and there’s sweat on their shirts, their dicky bows are undone, and there’s Jack Daniels, cigars and dolly birds around. Grandage said ‘that’s what I want in the show’ so they’ve gone more for actors and realism. Even the dancers in the chorus are more realistic looking girls—not the usual tall skinny ones”.

That brought us onto Claire’s exercise and healthy eating DVD called Perfect Fit which was released last year. “I have to watch what I eat,” she said. “I love food and I love drinking and I love all the things that you shouldn’t do. The show has kept me in pretty good shape, especially the stairs to my dressing room.”

If you have got the impression that Claire talks a lot, you’re right, but with such infectious enthusiasm and a great love of life she just bubbles over!

All four constantly sang the praises of their director for the tour—McGann managing to get a word in to give the name Jamie Lloyd who, he is quietly sure, is destined to become one of the top three directors in a very short time—amazingly still in his early twenties, but with the maturity to encourage performers and give them a chance to put in their own personality, while still keeping firm overall control. His name was mentioned several times—they are all evidently very impressed. Lloyd already has several directing credits under his belt, and is about to embark on his first full-scale solo directional project—The Caretaker at the Sheffield Crucible.

Over to Joe. How did he become an actor? “Well, we lived near a theatre in Liverpool and it was a good place to go and meet girls. There were lots of good facilities there, and with drama or dance people might take the mickey, but you were always credited with ‘having a go’ and it was encouraged and nurtured”.

Do you dance? I asked. “After a fashion—I’m getting there!”

McGann is also a keen hill-walker and climber and, when time permits, is happy to lend a hand to help others. He is presently involved in a project to describe paintings to the blind.

Sweeney too helps where she can; having lost a good friend to AIDS she travels out to Malawi on behalf of the Disaster Emergency Committee to try to highlight the dangers, and surprisingly the Africans seem more aware of the risks than do the young people in the UK.

Norwegian-born Lisa Stokke came to London about ten years ago to study, and stayed! Among her many achievements she had a year in the leading role of Sophie in the musical Mamma Mia! based on the songs of ABBA, and is one of Norway’s biggest stars. With husband and son, she returned to Norway last year “just to see what it was like”, but found they were missing England. Then this audition came along out of the blue and...

Ben, obviously her biggest fan, takes up the story.

”She won’t say this because she’s too modest, but I know for a fact that she walked into the room and did the audition and they said ‘that’s our Sarah Brown—that’s our girl’. Absolutely clear cut, she was head and shoulders above everyone else.” When she couldn’t make the first important rehearsal due to the impossibility of returning to London in time (she was then performing on an island in Norway), ”They tried desperately to find another girl but it was obvious that no one was anywhere close. They actually stopped her seeing the show, because she has the most exciting original way of playing Sarah Brown that’s not like anyone else, and they didn’t want to tarnish that in any way. She’s going to be one of our top three leading ladies”.

“If we didn’t get on it wouldn’t work because we do almost every single scene together,” said Lisa.

After only ten years of performing lead roles in musical theatre Richards achieved ‘overnight’ fame in the television series Footballers Wives and Holby City, and is also well known as one of the four judges on the prime time Saturday Night TV show Strictly Dance Fever. He was very anxious to let me know that this production is much more gritty and realistic than the film, jumping up to retrieve his well-thumbed book of the Damon Runyan short stories which gave birth to the show and explaining that it is set in New York in the forties and contains unusual language—a strange kind of slang.

“I was very nervous about this show,” he said “because so much of the scenes are between Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown, and if the chemistry’s not right you’re kind of screwed. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone that I’ve clicked so well with—it’s been an absolute joy! But you’re not going to see a dark Chekhovian show. It’s still Guys and Dolls—and it’s so exciting to be part of such a massive production.”

And now it was Lisa’s turn to praise: ”He’s got the whole manly thing,” she said. “The strength and the cheek of Sky, and that’s a very hard thing to do.”

All four seem to have become great friends—there was a lot of laughter and joking in their conversation—and Joe commented, “It’s a lovely company—it really is—not often you can say that—they’re all pulling together.”