Corrie’s Sue Cleaver returns to the stage after 30 years to play Mother Superior in Sister Act, on tour at Grand Opera House

“A chance to take on a role like this feels like heaven,” says Coronation Street star Sue Cleaver as she plays the Mother Superior in Sister Act

SUE Cleaver is taking the holy orders in a break from Coronation Street to play the Mother Superior in the 2024 tour of Sister Act in her first stage role in three decades.

Swapping the cobbles for the convent, the Rovers Return for rosary beads, after 23 years as Eileen Grimshaw in Corrie, she will play the Grand Opera House, York, from May 6 to 11.

‘‘I’m thrilled to be stepping into the habit and joining the incredible company of Sister Act on tour,” says Sue, 60. “It’s been over 30 years since I’ve been on stage, but theatre has always been my first love. A chance to take on a role like this feels like heaven.”

Based on Emile Ardolino’s 1992 American comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act is a testament to the universal power of friendship, sisterhood and music in its story of Deloris Van Cartier, a disco diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder.

Placed under protective custody, Deloris Van Cartier (Landi Oshinowo) is hidden in the one place she should not be found: a convent. Disguised as a nun and under the suspicious watch of Cleaver’s Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own in a joyous show replete with original music by Alan Menken and songs inspired by Motown, soul and disco.

Making a habit of it: Sue Cleaver’s Mother Superior in Sister Act

“I’m loving it,” says Sue of her stage return that opened in Brighton and has since taken her to Manchester, Cork, Belfast and Glasgow. “Theatre is where I started. I played lots of different reps [repertory theatres] early in my career, and then TV and film took over, but I’m very happy to be back.

“Just having a live audience there, the adrenaline and fear that goes with that, and getting a great response from them – that’s what most actors would say is why they do it. Actually, thinking about it, it’s adrenaline, rather than fear. Every night is different; every performance is different.”

Sue had never seen the musical. “I was going in blind, but I decided I wasn’t going to see other performers, as you want to create your own version,” she says. “Because of my [Coronation Street] schedule, I had only four and a half days’ rehearsal with the musical director and director [Bill Buckhurst] and two members of the cast, so I’m pretty proud of myself, going on after one run-through.

“It’s a big thing to take on in that short amount of time, but you get through that initial feeling of fear and just get on with it.”

Now eight weeks into the run, Sue has been comparing notes with Lesley Joseph, who preceded her in the Mother Superior’s role on tour before switching to playing Sister Mary Lazarus alongside Ruth Jones’s Mother Superior in the West End production at the Dominion Theatre. “We often do a WhatsApp catch-up in the interval in our habits!” she says.

Clash of worlds: Landi Oshinowo’s Deloris Van Cartier and Sue Cleaver’s Mother Superior in Sister Act

“I’ve not played a nun before, but the Mother Superior is just a great character. She’s a traditional, stern character who cares about the sisters and the convent, so it’s a clash of different worlds with Deloris as they navigate their way around each other and learn from each other. It’s a journey of discovery for both of them.”

Reflecting on diving into the deep end with Sister Act, Sue continues: “I feel it’s really important to take risks, to get out of your comfort zone. It’s why I said ‘yes, I’ll do it’. The timing was right for me, having concentrated very much on Corrie and bringing up my son, who’s now flown the nest. Hitting 60, this decade is about having fun!”

Fun to be had by all: “It’s just lovely to see audiences up on their feet and dancing. Right now, people are looking to go out and have a good time, and musicals provide that for all ages,” says Sue. “We all need that after the last few years. The world isn’t a great place at the minute, but if you can escape for a few hours of fun on stage, why not?”

Sue will be returning to the Coronation Street studios next month. “Eileen’s just popped off to see Thailand – it’s very useful to have a son in the show who’s gone off to the other side of the world!” she says. “I’m back in Corrie as soon as I finish this tour, going back to filming in June.”

Sister Act, Grand Opera House, York, May 6 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York

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“I ALWAYS said ‘No, I’ll never do it’, and then I said, ‘why am I saying ‘No’?’. It was only fear – and that wasn’t a good enough answer.

“So I did it! It was very tough, but we had a good group of people, who are still in touch, making friends for life. You can’t do that kind of show without making deep connections.”

Editing versus reality?

“The viewer sees 19 minutes out of every 24 hours, and we have absolutely no say in how things are knitted together. None of us have watched it because it will be the edited version and all that entails.

“We know what our journey was. You couldn’t re-create it. We all lived it. I lost two stone; some of the lads lost three stone.”

Daily food rations in the jungle

“Three table spoons of beans, three table spoons of rice, and then you win everything else. You’re getting up at six in the morning and your food doesn’t fly in until eight at night, so you’re very tired at the end of the day, which is the aim of it.

“We were lucky that we were a very solid group: it was a world of grown-ups in there.”

Lessons learnt in the Aussie jungle?

“Well, I never went back to putting salt on food because I had way too much salt before. I don’t miss it. Now I’m completely off it. I don’t even put it on chips.

“I never want to eat wholegrain rice again either.

“I came back thinking, ‘I’ll never sleep in a jungle in a little camp bed again’, but as long I can take my own packed lunch I’d go back to sleeping in a camp bed.

“I’ve done my fair share of camping. Occasionally we have a camping trip from Corrie, though we’ve not done that yet this year.”