Viv Hardwick reports as Cillar star Sheridan Smith brings to life another real- and larger-than-life character in Funny Girl, at Newcastle Theatre Royal

THE character of Fanny Brice is one that Sheridan Smith knows inside out, and she is looking forward to playing this extraordinary woman again as the Funny Girl tour goes out on the road after West End success.

“Fanny Brice was a woman ahead of her time,” says Smith. “She broke the mould for female entertainers at a time when it was predominantly male performers. Not only that, she was a brilliant comic. Her lack of vanity made her unique and very special.”

The performer is also looking forward to returning to musical theatre again, and getting to sing all the songs from the musical that she loves so much. “My favourite song is actually the title song. It’s sad and yet uplifting. Obviously I love the classics, People and Don’t Rain On My Parade. The comedy numbers are really fun to perform too, and it’s great to enjoy them on stage with the full company – a really special part of the evening.”

This year is already shaping up to be an exciting one for Smith. Fresh from her critically acclaimed performance in The Moorside, where she played Julie Bushby, one of the women who led the search for Shannon Matthews in 2008, she’s now ready to her popular role of Fanny Brice, a role for which she has called “the most brilliant comic actress at work today” and earned an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.

“I’m just really looking forward to bringing a show I love to people who might not have been able to make it to London. I think it’s really important for theatre to look outwards and not just be centred round London.

“I’ve also never done a tour before, so I’m really looking forward to visiting so many great cities,” Smith says of visiting theatres all over the UK and Ireland for six months. “Touring is a new experience for me, and I can’t wait to see how different places respond to the show in different ways, it will make the show feel even more ‘live’”.

Touring isn’t the only thing Smith won’t be familiar with. She’ll be taking Funny Girl on the road with a new cast, and will be performing opposite US musical theatre star Chris Peluso, who plays Nick Arnstein. “I can’t wait to work with Chris. Creatively, it feels fantastic to be working with someone like him – he’s such a brilliant actor. Not to mention working with a whole new company. I may know the show well, but it’s always new and exciting to explore it with a new cast. It brings freshness to the production as you constantly see things through new eyes and discover it together.”

Smith seems to be at her best when playing real life characters, from Fanny Brice, to Mrs Charmian Biggs (for which she won her Bafta), to Cilla Black. Her most recent role in The Moorside is no exception. Just how much preparation is required when taking on people that the public are already familiar with.

“I love researching each character. When you’re playing them, you can prepare for the role more thoroughly: you can research the back story, find examples of how your character behaved, how they thought, moved and even spoke. On the other hand, playing these people comes with huge responsibility. To some extent you are, of course, expected to ‘remain true’ to the character, and it’s crucial to find a balance between portraying the person truthfully and putting your own stamp on the role and bringing something personal to it. It’s difficult and a challenge, but it’s one I really enjoy.”

With an impressive career in TV and film already, what it is about the theatre that keeps Smith coming back? “I love theatre because you get to go on a journey with the audience. The butterflies and excitement are palpable and every night is unique. There’s something exhilarating about knowing that the show could be different every night.”

Like any busy entertainer, the actress already has a project lined up for when Funny Girl finishes. “I will begin filming a television show for ITV called Clean Break, which tells the story of office cleaner Sam, an ordinary working-class woman. I play Sam, who is caught between her own life as a working mother and the world of insider trading, we’ll start filming for that in the autumn. “

  • Funny Girl runs at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday, May 16, to Saturday, May 20. A handful of tickets remain at or 08448-112121