From Hollyoaks to Norwich pantomime: Steven Roberts’ wish comes true
- Credit: Archant
For three years, Steven Roberts brought the sensitive soul George to life in the prime-time soap hit Hollyoaks. As he prepares to take on roles in two very different stage productions this year, Steven reflects on the impact George had in highlighting homelessness and cutting prejudice.
It is all too easy to imagine an actor has assumed the personality traits of their best-known TV character. While the thoughtfulness and fun of Hollyoaks student George Smith is in evidence, there is no sign of a Louboutin label or scarlet scarf when Steven Roberts chats about the character who shot him to fame.
George certainly went through it during his time on the hit Channel 4 soap with a host of hard-hitting storylines coupled with a resolute determination by his character to overcome the many tough hurdles he faced.
What makes this maturity of performance so surprising is that this was Steven's first role straight out of drama school. He recalled: 'Hollyoaks was in the middle of a transition period because they wanted to bring a lot of new characters in all at one time. There was a major casting call to look out for new young actors. These things would normally happen in London but I had to go Liverpool and Lime Pictures where the show is made. The producers met some potential 'Georges' and I did some scenes. I then stayed in the afternoon for a screen test where they mixed all of us around in different configurations to see how we worked with actors who were hoping to play other new characters.
'I went home and thought I had enjoyed a nice day out in Liverpool and I didn't expect to hear anything. I got the call, though, to say I had got it and before I knew it, I was on my way to Liverpool and the contracts for the show just kept coming. Before I knew it, I had been there for three years. From start to finish, it was a bit of a whirlwind.'
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At first glance with his fashionista design-sense and slightly gauche personality, you would be forgiven he was there for some comic relief but George was someone with hidden depths and a strong backstory. 'I think the thing I always liked about George's character is that even though he had run away from home because of his demons and bullying, he was always true to himself and never hid his sexuality from his friends. Hollyoaks the village was a safe and open place where he could be himself. He had found a community of friends who accepted him for who he was and actually the bad stuff wasn't allowed to affect him as much. George had just misunderstood that his parents would not like him because he was gay. It was important that it showed they were accepting. I know not every parent is but it is nice that we live in a world where things are changing and I hope that we can all be ourselves and live happily,' said Steven.
Linked in with this story was George finding himself living on the streets because he was worried about the reaction from his parents to his coming out. For Steven, this was arguably his most memorable storyline. He said: 'It was a big part of my time there exploring how young people can find themselves on the streets and how they cope with it. It was a tough storyline to do but I worked with the Centrepoint charity and tried to help these situations. It was true to life and it had a strong message about learning to accept yourself and try to surround yourself with the right people. He had some nice friends. There was one night we did a sleep out to raise money for charity. To think that people have to do that night in and night out is terrible. It was a nice storyline to be able to do.'
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From there, theatre beckoned and he took on one of his dream parts - Posner in Alan Bennett's classic and much-loved play The History Boys. Steven recalled: 'We toured for six months all over the country and went to lots of different theatres and I loved the play. I had done films and theatre as a child but that was my first proper touring adult role. Touring is something I really enjoy. You get the chance to experience different sizes of theatre. Some can feel more intimate and some can feel bigger. You get to know the locals a bit and sample each area's culinary delights. You get to see the local surroundings which is nice.'
For the rest of the year, Steven is back on stage in two very different productions both of which are aimed at all ages. Though the summer, he is part of the cast of an imaginative new production of The Secret Garden at York Theatre Royal which features a human and puppet cast bringing Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic story to life. Steven said: 'It is magical family adventure. It is a story of friendship, what it can do and how together they can overcome obstacles.'
And things go full circle as he takes on the title role in the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime Aladdin this Christmas. Not only will he follow in the footsteps of fellow ex-Hollyoaker Lucy Dixon who took on the same role in the city a few years ago but it was also the place where he first realised acting was what he wanted to do. He explained: 'My family used to live near Lowestoft and we used to get the train to see the Norwich pantomime every Christmas. I remember the show being colourful and fun. It is my earliest memory of seeing something on stage. That is where I first fell in love with the theatre and is my earliest memory of the excitement, singing and dancing.'
So while Steven may have left George behind for now, he is getting the chance to play a wide range of characters in a wide range of different shows and is loving the chance to see his childhood dream become a reality.
* Aladdin, Wednesday 12 December-Sunday 13 January. Tickets £10-£24.50. Under-threes free. Discounts for Over-60s, Under-18s, and Groups. Signed performance on Sunday 6 January at 1pm. Audio-described performance on Saturday 5 January at 2.30pm. Captioned performance on Sunday 6 January at 5pm.
To book, visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000
Relaxed performance especially suited to those with autism and their family and friends on Friday 4 January at 5.30pm. Tickets for this performance can be booked in person at our box office or by phone on 01603 630000.