WIN: tickets to see Claire Sweeney talking about bad dates, swinging and Ann Summers

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WE’VE all had them – bad dates. And now the mysteries of men, dating and finding Mr Right are being explored in a new stage show.

As well as starring in Sex in Suburbia, Claire Sweeney penned the comedy, which features a blend of real-life stories and musical anthems including I’m Every Woman and I Want to Break Free.

The actress appears in a late-night phone-in show where the complexities of relationships are explored and joked about.

Speaking about the inspiration for the show, Claire said: “All the appallingly bad dates my friends and I have ever experienced. We’d tell each other what had happened and get over the horror of the experiences by laughing about them. Then, about two years ago, my close friend Mandy Muden and I started writing them all down in my front room with the notion of turning them into a comedy.

“At first we weren’t even sure if we were funny! But the play went down a storm with the audiences last year when it first opened in Liverpool. We take them through every emotion and they enjoy themselves so much that they get up to dance in the aisles and sing along to the big musical anthems we’ve included, such as I’m Every Woman, I Want To Break Free and, of course, I Will Survive.”

Claire, who shot to fame in Brookside, says that in writing the show, she and Mandy took real-life experiences and embellished upon them for the stage.
“It’s all about the eternal subject of love and romance, and the quest to find Mr Right through a series of mainly unsatisfactory dating experiences,” she said. “But we’ve tried to take the bad out of the date and make the audience laugh by helping them to see the funny side.

“In our comedy the host of a late-night radio show is Britain’s leading agony aunt and she takes calls from listeners about their dates from hell – and the occasional one from heaven – and dishes out her advice.

“In the original show I played a relationship expert, but this time around I play myself – a working mum with a baby. I decided to update it because my baby boy Jaxon, who was born in September, has changed my outlook on life.

“As a result, I’ve injected my own personal experiences of motherhood into the show.”

The TV personality says audience participation is a fun part of the show and helps to keep it fresh – and they never know what to expect from the crowd.

“One guy in Liverpool said he took a gorgeous girl out one time, only to discover he’d dated her mum previously. And there’s a lot of girls who seem to climb out of bathroom windows in the middle of a bad date,” she said.

Everyone brave enough to stand on stage and share their stories receives a free goodie bag from Ann Summers.

As well as her own experiences of dating in the past, other true stories feature.

“There’s an extraordinary tale about a cross-dresser,” she said. “It’s the true story of a woman married to an uncommunicative, unpleasant man who suddenly discovers that he likes to wear women’s clothes.

“After the initial shock, she becomes the best of friends with his alter ego – who’s softer, warm and kind – and it saves their marriage.

“There’s another cautionary tale that carries the warning, ‘be careful what you wish for.’ A man wants to take his wife to a ‘swingers’ club, but she is reluctant.

“When he finally persuades her to experiment, she ends up loving it. He becomes jealous and they end up getting divorced. But there’s nothing vulgar about our show; we’ve made it sympathetic and most of all, amusing.”

And Claire says it isn’t just women who can enjoy the show.

“At first we assumed it would be a comedy for women, but we’ve seen men coming, too,” she said. “During a matinee performance I saw a whole group of fellas fill a row, and at the bar in the interval I asked them why they’d come.

“They replied that one of their mates had seen it, loved it and recommended it and so they’d come along as part of a lads’ day out.

“There are elements of the show that men can definitely relate to.”

The Sunderland date on the tour will be a return to an old stomping ground for Claire.

She recalls: “The Sunderland Empire was actually where I did my first pantomime when I was 17 with John Inman. I have such fond memories of being there, I remember staying in a fantastic apartment which I’d love to find when I’m there.”

•Sex in Suburbia is at Sunderland Empire on March 9, and the following night at Whitley Bay Playhouse. For tickets to the Empire Tel. 0844 871 3022 or visit www.atgtickets.com/sunderland. The show is only suitable for people aged 16 and over.

WE’VE teamed up with Sunderland Empire to give away a pair of tickets to Sex in Suburbia. To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: which soap launched Claire’s career?

A) Brookside

B) Eastenders

C) Hollyoaks

Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk. Closing date: February 5.