Two Derby-born actors join festive shows

The parallels between the lives of two Derby-born actors entertaining us on city stages this Christmas are too fascinating to ignore.

They have never met, but it would be lovely to think that they might find time to get together for a chat and share a story or two once this festive run is done and dusted.

Gwen Taylor, left, is playing The Enchantress in Beauty and the Beast at Derby Arena while Esme Sears, above, is taking on the role of the mischievious Tinkerbell in Peter Pan at Derby Theatre.

Gwen at 78 is a stalwart of the industry who won many hearts in the UK with her comic role as Peggy Armstrong in the hit TV series Heartbeat.

She has had guest roles in everything from Holby City to Inspector Morse and stage productions of Driving Miss Daisy and the Calendar Girls. She also had a part in the film Lady in the Van.

Despite her fame, Gwen always jumps at the chance to return to her home city.

“I enjoy coming back because everyone is always so lovely to me. They think of me as a local girl made good, and that is a nice feeling to have.

“I was thrilled when I was approached to be a part of Beauty and the Beast as it gives me a chance to do something out of the ordinary and ridiculous.

“I have to be kind to myself at my age, but I thought I might not have a chance to be part of a pantomime again so I am harnessing all my energy for this challenge. The show is going to be great fun and if I can pull it off there will be some spectacular moments for me – but I mustn’t give too much away.”

While at school in Derby, Gwen loved to perform and was in the Marlowe Players. She also had a small part in Jack in the Beanstalk at the Derby Playhouse, but there was never any question of her going to drama school at that time.

“We weren’t well off and I needed to get a job and I went into banking. I don’t regret it at all as I met lots of interesting people and I draw on my younger life for the characters I play.”

But ten years or so later she had put the bank behind her and followed her heart by enrolling at drama school.

By the age of 32 she was playing the 15-year-old pregnant schoolgirl, Jo in a Taste of Honey at the Crucible in Sheffield. It was one of her first big breaks and the rest, as they say, is history.

“It has always been an advantage that I looked younger than my age. It is one of the reasons I am still going at my age today,” she said.

Esme echoed the sentiments of her elder peer.

“I am lucky that I look much younger than I am as it has helped me get parts like this,” she said.

The actor was a pupil at Derby High School and from a very young age her parents encouraged her with dancing, singing and music lessons.

She danced on the stage at Derby Playhouse and was in  the National Youth Choir at 17.

“However I was also encouraged academically and went down the very sensible science career path and I trained as a dentist.

“But I was torn between that and my creative side which was burning in the background.

“Eventually I decided that I was an artist and that was what I should be doing .

“My family always taught me that in life I could achieve anything I wanted, the mind is such a powerful thing and we should always follow our passions and dreams.

“I thank my family for many things but this lesson most of all, as I wouldn’t have achieved the things I have without their guidance and support.”

Esme decided to use the money she was earning as a dentist to put herself through drama school and follow her dream.

She doesn’t regret gaining her dentristy skills, though, and she still practises occasionally if she is not working as an actor.

“While at drama school I wrote to as many artistic directors as I could looking for work and advice and I was amazed when one – Sarah Brigham – got back to me the same day.”

Since that day Sarah has encouraged and mentored the young actor and Esme says working with the artistic director and being a part of a team in a Derby Theatre production is the best way of learning.

“Being here gives you the chance to learn and grow as a performer. Sarah just gives so much.”

Esme landed her first professional part in A Christmas Carol at the theatre in 2014, and the next year took the lead role in Cinderella.

“When I heard this year that they were doing Peter Pan I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and to have the part of Tinkerbell is just perfect for me. I love the complex character that she is.

“The way we are staging the show is challenging and we are all working very hard. I am not going to give away any secrets, but I will say it is a very heartwarming show centred around the lost children.”

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