‘I used to put on pantos in the lounge, now I’m in Sleeping Beauty at Norwich Theatre Royal’: dancer Jack Ireland on his return to Norfolk
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His performing started with pantomimes with his relatives in the front room of his Breckland home, now dancer Jack Ireland is in Norwich Theatre Royal's Sleeping Beauty. He tells us about getting the chance to perform on home turf and spend the festive season in his native Norfolk.
Flashback to Jack Ireland's very early years and pantomime was a key part of his festive calendar.
He laughed: 'I used to put on my own panto in the lounge for all the family. My cousins and I would say to everyone 'we will be five minutes' and get the dressing-up box out. My performing kicked off from there really.'
Move forward quite a few years and Jack has moved on from the front room of his home at Mattishall, near Dereham, for a festive performance at Norwich Theatre Royal as part of the cast of Sleeping Beauty, which runs until January 14.
He is delighted to be sharing the stage with the star cast which includes stage and TV favourite Derek Griffiths, EastEnders star Gillian Wright, and Theatre Royal panto stalwarts Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley.
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'We have such a fantastic cast and I am so excited to bring Christmas cheers to everyone,' he said.
While those family pantomimes were the start of his career, Jack later joined the youth arm of Dereham Operatic Society at the age of 12 to boost his skills further.
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He said: 'We put on productions and we did concerts. I remember one called Back To The Eighties where I had to play a school teacher. I was only 16 and had to sing the Michael Jackson song Man In The Mirror. I gave it my best shot and it was my first lead role.'
From there, he successfully auditioned for the National Dance Diploma run by Norwich City College at The Garage before later moving on to Blackpool where he trained at Phil Winston's Theatreworks for three years. Being in Lancashire's 'seaside of showbiz' gave him a lot of opportunities.
He recalled: 'It was great. We got to do our college shows at the Grand Theatre and while I was up there, I used to work at Pizza Express near the opera house. All the touring shows would perform in the town. I would finish work and then go and see all the big productions like Blood Brothers, and Cabaret starring Will Young.'
Jack was then set to spread his wings globally as he got a job with Costa Cruises on the first ever all-Chinese cruise. That brought him a number of exciting challenges both professionally and culturally.
He explained: 'It is great from a performing perspective because I did four very different shows. I had also always wanted to travel. China was the complete opposite of Norfolk.
'It was also great to meet so many different people. They were as interested in my culture as I was in theirs. It was just amazing. It was nice to interact with lots of different people from different countries.'
But the pull of Norfolk was still strong and the chance to be part of the popular Cromer Pier summer show cropped up. Jack did a video audition while on board and got the chance to be part of the show earlier this year.
He recalls: 'It was so nice to perform locally and be just an hour from my house. My dinner lady from primary school was in the audience one night and people would turn up to see the show who I hadn't seen for years. It was so nice to see familiar faces. The Cromer show is also great as it is like being part of a family.'
Talking of which, that family feel is also being replicated as part of the Theatre Royal panto company although Jack always faces a mixture of worry and excitement when performing on home turf.
He said: 'It is always a bit nerve wracking. When you stand out and there are people watching you who you know, you get that buzz of adrenaline. I have lots of people coming to see me. In fact there were lots booked in for my very first show.'
Even though Jack loves the globe-trotting, he is excited to perform in his local area. When it comes to entertaining an audience, there is no place like home.
• Sleeping Beauty, Norwich Theatre Royal, until January 14, various dates/times, £24.50-£7, under-3s free, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk