A big day dawns for actress Alice Stokoe on what is traditionally an auspicious day for her native Tyneside.
While hundreds of runners line up for the 2014 running of the Blaydon Race – the original, as the old song records, was on the ninth of June – Alice will be making her debut on the West End stage.
The talented 22-year-old is taking over one of the principal roles in Mamma Mia! which has been part of the beating heart of London’s theatreland for 15 years – during which it has helped to plant Abba’s famous songs in the minds of a new generation.
Alice, who is among several new cast members, is taking over the part of Sophie Sheridan whose forthcoming wedding on the Greek island of Kalokairi gets the story up and running (she wants her father to walk her down the aisle but it seems there are several candidates for that honour).
It is a big part in a big show and, you would imagine, just about as good as it gets for an aspiring young actress not long out of drama school. Alice, who grew up in Jarrow, won a scholarship to the highly regarded Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
But I wouldn’t mind betting she will be as cool as a cucumber as the seconds tick down to curtain up at the Novello Theatre.
Speaking to her recently she said she had only been called in at the last minute for the Mamma Mia! role. “It has happened very quickly but it is very exciting,” she said.
“I did see the show a while ago but I always knew that was a part I wanted to play. I knew it was right for me so it has been an aim.
“Mamma Mia! is so successful. It has been running for such a long time and has a very dedicated audience. I think its popularity is down to the fact that it’s such a happy show. It cheers everyone up and everyone seems to love it.”
Alice, who took her great grandmother’s maiden name as her stage name because there was already an Alice Brown on acting union Equity’s books, was looking ahead to a final three-week rehearsal period when we spoke and she had also just quit her job in a cafe.
Yes, this is the flipside of West End glamour. Actors who see their names in lights one day might be doling out cappuccinos the next in order to pay the bills.
“You have to go for anything you can get, basically,” said Alice. “But then you might have to drop it quickly if you get a good acting job.”
It’s a precarious lifestyle but one that Alice is well prepared for, having set her sights on the acting profession quite a few years ago.
“I’ve got a lot to learn but it has been so much fun so far and very hectic. Already, just in the first couple of weeks rehearsing for this show, I’ve learnt so much. This is my first big job and it has been brilliant.
“The good thing is that some of the cast are not changing so they can help the new ones. The woman who plays my mother in the show (that’s Donna Sheridan) is called Dianne Pilkington and she’s staying, which is brilliant for me.”
Alice graduated from Italia Conti two years ago and found her first professional work near to home, appearing in the panto at the Customs House in South Shields.
“I’ve done three pantos at the Customs House now and that has been really brilliant for me, really good training. You need a lot of stamina for pantos.”
Alice also appeared in a couple of new plays in the North East, including Weather to Fly by Culture Awards nominee Allison Davies which went to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Now based in London, she explained: “This is where my agent is and this is where the auditions are. I moved down to London when I was 18 so this has been my life.
“But there is acting work in the North East so I have found myself coming back a few times.”
It looks as if Mamma! Mia will be keeping her in the capital for a good few weeks to come and it should also have her singing Abba songs in her sleep. Her two solos in the show are The Name of the Game and I Have a Dream, big Abba hits long before she was born.
“I think I will be very nervous on the first night but I will have about 35 friends and family in the audience and that will be really nice,” said Alice.
“But there’s a really good support crew with this show and I think I’ll be able to channel my nerves into positive energy.”
Among that contingent of friends in the audience will be Alice’s parents, BBC Look North presenter Jeff Brown and Susan Wear, director of corporate affairs at Port of Tyne.
Both are one-time Journal reporters and justly proud of their daughter. And if you are wondering why this article began with a reference to the Blaydon Race, that was Jeff’s idea. A famous sports nut, he covered the sporting field for The Journal before broadcasting claimed him.
Emailing me about Alice’s success, he said: “Her first show is June 9, Blaydon Races day. For a Geordie girl it’s an unforgettable date.”
Now, for Jeff, Susan and Alice, it will be doubly unforgettable.