Elaine C Smith... pure, dead, brilliant

Elaine C Smith in Annie
Elaine C Smith in Annie
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LONG before the love-struck Irene ever mused that Willie Melvin, the object of her affections, was “pure, dead brilliant” in City Lights, and before the long-suffering Mary Doll became a national treasure in Rab C Nesbitt, Elaine C Smith could be found teaching drama at Firrhill High.

The actress, who now stars in the BBC comedy drama Two Doors Down as sweary, straight-talking Christine, was reminded of her early days when she landed the role that brings her to the Playhouse this week - Miss Hannigan, in the popular family musical Annie.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” says the 57-year-old, who also starred in Naked Video, Two Thousand Acres of Sky and 55 Degrees North.

“When producer Michael Harrison first asked me to play Miss Hannigan, I realised when I was a teacher at Firrhill High, I always took my fifth year kids to London on a theatre break.

“One of the first shows we saw was the original production of Annie, with Sheila Hancock playing Miss Hannigan.

“So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll need to play it, there’s something in the air about this’.”

Elaine soon found herself in a rehearsal room with Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, who was then in role.

“I went to see it and thought Craig was fantastic,” recalls Elaine. “He had all these big dance routines to do, as I watched and thought, ‘Well, they’ve only got them in for Craig because everyone wants to see him dance. They’ll all be cut when I do it’.”

Laughing, she continues, “Well, they bloody weren’t. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, even though I can dance, but this was ‘choreographers’ choreography’.”

Admitting she was terrified when she made her debut as Miss Hannigan with a cast who had already been touring the show for eight months, Elaine explains, “I had one dress rehearsal with them and then I was on... but when I walked down for my bow at the end, the roar was fantastic. Scottish audiences do that. They say, ‘Aye, our Elaine did well. She didnae embarrass us.”

Another established cast to welcome Elaine into its ranks recently was that of Two Doors Down.

“My husband Bob had seen the pilot of Two Doors Down, the New Year’s one, and said it was great, that it was fresh, and that Alex Norton, who has directed me in three pantos, was in it.

“A typical actor, I was raging then, going, ‘Oh is it? And I’m no in it’,” she laughs, adding, “We all pretend, ‘Oh that’s lovely, I’m glad it’s going well,’ but actually we’re raging that something else is very successful.

“However, in my moments of humility, I have to admit I’ve had an amazing run and that there are lots of really talented people out there, so I thought, ‘Calm yourself, there’s room for all of us’.

“Then I saw they were making a series, so I said to my agent that if anything came up in it, woman at bus stop, whatever, I’d be happy to go for it.

“At that point I’d also been talking to River City, they wanted me to create a part but, though it’s great stuff, I didn’t feel it was the right time.

“The very next day I was seeing the people from Two Doors Down. I thought I was up for a one-off appearance as Sophie’s mum... then they came back and said it was over six episodes.”

As Christine, a woman with no social graces and no filter, Elaine has been stealing every scene her character appears in.

“What a joy she is. The lines have been a gift, to die for,” she admits, “and for the first time I’m playing a woman who doesn’t have a husband, so I’m not feeding someone else’s gags.”

It’s not just viewers who find the character hilarious, frequently the cast too have collapsed into laughter, thanks to one of Christine’s killer barbs.

“We had so many corpses [when an actor can’t say their line for laughing], like when Christine had the line about Glasgow Airport: ‘Say what you like about the IRA but you knew where you were with them’.

“On the day I said that line they all fell about laughing and I said ‘It’ll never see the light of day. It’ll be cut. It wasn’t.”

The popularity of the character derives from the fact that everyone knows a Christine, believes Elaine.

“The number of folk that have said to me, ‘I know a woman like Christine’, the type who say, ‘Well, you know me, I don’t like to say anything, but...’ and then they launch into all the detail.”

And the good news is that there’s more of Christine and her Latimer Crescent neighbours on the way.

“We start filming the second series at the end of July,” she reveals. “But the weird thing is, we were recommissioned before this series even went out. That’s just like the old days and seldom happens now, but London had seen it first and went, ‘That’s brilliant’.”

You might even say, pure, dead, brilliant.

Annie, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £12.50-£49.50, 0844-871 3014