CHRISTMAS is generally not the time to worry about your waistline, but Newry's Rozlyn Sheridan is dusting down the bun crumbs and taking favourite alter ego, Bernie Jones, out of her corner and into a slimming club with new show, Absolutely Flabulous.
For the No-one Puts Bernie in a Corner writer and performer, confronting our "diet-saturated" culture head-on can only be a good thing – whether or not 'tis the season to eat, drink and be merry.
"I think we all know we know that we live in a diet-saturated culture where women feel they have to conform to be a certain size or look a certain way," says the comedienne, drama school boss and erstwhile half of comedy duo Nuala and Noleen which toured Ireland with hit show, It's Wine O'Clock.
"It's in your face everywhere you go. Everything seems to be diet-related and calorie-counted, so even though this new show is all very tongue-in-cheek, there is some pathos and reflection involved and I think women in particular will readily identify with the message – and hopefully leave the theatre feeling a wee bit more upbeat."
Taking a serious topic and "poking" its darker corners with a forensic comedy wand is becoming a sort of a modus operandi for the Sheridan Stage School founder who also searches out the "tender moments" in character Bernie's struggles with weight, romance, parenting, work and friendships – "all the ups and downs of life, really".
Directed by Dan Gordon, the show follows Bernie as she joins a slimming club and discovers new truths along with new friendships with fellow slimmers.
"Bonding, supportive friendships and self-acceptance are at the heart of the story," explains Sheridan who plays 12 different characters in the one-woman show, including a stroppy teenage daughter and "eccentric, no-filter" mother – a role loosely based on her own mother.
"Yes, my own mother is probably the mother in this, although I don't say that too much," she says, laughing down the line from her Newry drama school premises where she has been busy rehearsing.
"When women get to a certain age, they don't really care too much about what other people think and the mother in Absolutely Flabulous is a bit like that.
"She is probably one of the funniest characters in the play because she gets away with saying things that she shouldn't and that no-one else ever would. My own mother is fearless like that. She is a great character to play and because of that she had her own show – Mrs Jones' Diary – which toured and went down a storm."
The secret, believes Sheridan, an acting graduate of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, comes down to one word – relatability.
"I just think Bernie Jones is a very relatable character and that is why audiences – mostly women – warm to her," she says. "There were sold-out shows everywhere with No-one puts Bernie in a Corner, so I just had to open a new chapter in her life.
"In Absolutely Flabulous, Bernie has a lot going on – as well as the slimming club, her laundry business moves to the high street and she is nominated for a 'business woman of the year' award. Unfortunately, a conniving rival with a beauty clinic across the street is intent on sabotaging her flourishing enterprise. Meanwhile, her love life takes a complicated turn when an ex-fiancé resurfaces and her childhood sweetheart returns from Australia..."
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It's all a lot of fun for the writer who wants her on-stage persona to authentically reflect "the joys and complexities" of modern womanhood, while waving a flag for "all women out there who are a little bigger than size 10".
As for her own waistline, Sheridan doesn't waste too much time worrying about it. "Of course, I worry about my own waistline," she admits, "but I don't let it take over. I really should be a size eight doing this show – it's a bit of a marathon – although maybe I will be by the time it's over."
Aside from the physicality of performing a run of seven shows, it is, she says, "a mental marathon" more than anything else, but one she prepares for constantly by observing people and noting any quirks – with her nearest and dearest always first in line for comedic exploitation.
In addition to putting a version of her mother on stage, the comedienne has borrowed some early teenage stroppiness from her now grown-up student daughter (a singer with the Trinity Belles a capella group at Trinity College, Dublin) as well as friends, acquaintances and random people who catch her eye on a night out.
"I'm always on alert for a good character and a good story," she says. "I'm drawn to people like that... people who are naturally funny but don't realise it. Often you don't understand the reason why, yourself. Comedy can be so nuanced and layered that it's hard to put your finger on exactly what makes it work, sometimes. That's part of the appeal, part of the magic, I suppose."
Performing and making people laugh started early – impersonating the neighbours as a child – before she progressed to the Ulster Youth Theatre and then on to university in Edinburgh, later working as a Red Coat entertainer and theatre actress in Scotland before opening her stage school and teaming up with Teresa McBride, the other half of Nuala and Noleen.
"Teresa and I started by making a few Snapchat videos back in the day which people found hilarious and it went from there," she says. "When Teresa fell pregnant, life as we knew it as a double act, stopped, so that's when I decided to try a one-woman show. l have had Bernie out for three separate tours now and each one has sold out. There is definitely a hunger for something that reflects females' lives at the minute."
Happily, her husband, a barrister, is very supportive. "It's a strange phenomenon for him," Sheridan adds, mischievously. "I always say he is an actor of a different kind. I laugh because he wears the wigs to work and I'm wearing them on stage. My whole family are very supportive, really, and luckily, if they recognise a little bit of themselves on stage... well, they're usually able to see the funny side."
:: Absolutely Flabulous: Bernie Jones's Journey from Laundry Queen to Slimming Sensation is directed by Dan Gordon and runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, from December 12-17