Glasgow return for stage star Sandra

ACTORS are forever wondering who they are, in a bid to become a different character on stage or on screen.

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Sandra is coming back to city to spend time with her mum and dad
Sandra is coming back to city to spend time with her mum and dad

But it was only a few years ago that Sandra McNeeley had to re-think her own character when she discovered her family background was the stuff of drama scripts.

West End-born Sandra, now starring in the Pavilion dance hall musical comedy Please Stay, realised she wasn't a McNeeley at all.

"We'd long known that my dad, who grew up near Donegal, was adopted and came to Glasgow when he was 16.

"So we did some research and discovered his mum had given him away when he was a baby. And he was really an O'Malley.

"We went to Ireland and then we discovered his real mum was still alive. Incredibly, she was living in Edinburgh and was only an hour away for most of his life.

"But at least he got a chance to find out who he was. And he found out about his real dad, whose name was Walsh, after we went to Ireland and spoke to people in the village."

Sandra found the process fascinating. It helped her dad, Martin, who's now 85, put his life in perspective. And it opened up another world for her, of new cousins and understanding different values.

"I came to realise that people gave away babies at that time. Yet, we don't know why my dad's mother gave him away. This was all done in the days when babies could be handed over, no questions asked.

"And even after talking to relatives in Ireland, some still don't want to talk about it."

Martin McNeeley was never resentful.

"He was really happy with the McNeeleys, and so pleased to meet his real mum. He knows where he came from, and he's happy now. "

Sandra has been living near Oban in recent years, teaching dance. Now, she does 'around five different jobs' to pay the bills in between acting stints.

But she's planning to come back to Glasgow to spend time with her parents.

"Teaching ballet had been going really well, then I tore my tendon in my knee and that was that," she says.

"But now I'm selling the house to spend time with my parents, who live in Maryhill.

"My dad still goes to his dance classes, he's so full of energy. But I don't want to miss out on seeing them."

She adds, smiling: "I love them to bits."

Sandra clearly inherited her dad's love of dance. She looks across the Pavilion Theatre stage in wonder and smiles: "I've been appearing on that stage since I was two and a half.

"I was going to tap dancing classes at the time, and my dancing teacher Miss Crawford did a show here every year.

"My sister and I appeared on this stage. We were amazed - and terrified all at the same time."

She adds: "I danced until the age of 15 and then gave it up. But I've always loved acting. I remember we did role plays in the class on Friday afternoons when I was 11 or 12. I couldn't wait for Friday afternoon.

"We had a drama teacher at school who was brilliant and when Mr Turner left Woodside Secondary he wasn't replaced. Drama just wasn't seen as important then. But I was devastated."

Aged 15, Sandra and a pal went to a drama workshop and joined what became Unit One Theatre Company. She landed a role of Lucille in the Slab Boys, with Bobby Carlyle directing.

Aged 22 in 1990, she won a place at the RSAMD alongside the likes of Daniela Nardini and Gray O'Brien - and several prizes for her performances.

Over the years she's worked in a range of theatre across the country, with stints in Cumbernauld Theatre. And she's worked on iconic theatre such as The Ship and the Big Picnic.

"The Ship let me work with brilliant actors such as Jimmy Grant and Jimmy Logan," she recalls.

Sandra came back to the Pavilion in 1994 with Paras Over The Barras, with John Murtagh. And she's been a regular ever since. Right now, she's loving being back in Please Stay, Russell Lane's musical set in the Locarno in the 60s.

"Most of the comedy in the show comes from one-liners, which means you really have to be on the ball," says Sandra.

"It's great Glasgow patter, but it's got to be the right beat at the right tone."

n Please Stay also stars Nicola Park, Ryan Smith, Dougie Sannachan, Debbie Welsh, Billy Armour, Chris McClure Stephen Purdon, Gary Lamont, until August 3.

Arts and Entertainment

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