Sheridan Smith: Strangers hugged me in the street

Sheridan Smith is one of Britain’s best-known actresses, but her new role may be her most challenging yet.

He starred in the musical Opening Night, about a star with mental health problems who come to light on stage.

It was a part that Smith said “came close to the bone” after her personal problems saw her temporarily step down from Funny Girl in the West End in 2016.

But the 42-year-old star said after “faltering” and “covering himself in tattoos”, his confidence was back.

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Opening Night, which is based on the 1977 film of the same name, follows a theater company preparing to stage a show on Broadway.

The music and lyrics are by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, while the show is directed by Olivier Award winner Ivo van Hove.

In the story, Myrtle, played by Smith, experiences a nervous breakdown after the death of one of her fans.

The Cilla and Gavin and Stacey star told the BBC that Myrtle was “clinging to life” and viewers didn’t know if she would make her own opening night.

Parallels with his past have been drawn by Smith himself. “I’ve had mental crises before, which were quite well publicized, so there was definitely a part of me that I was able to bring to the character,” he said.

It’s been eight years since Smith withdrew from the musical Funny Girl due to stress, exhaustion and dealing with her father’s cancer diagnosis.

He later returned to performing, but the period affected him greatly.

“I was shaky, covering myself with tattoos. I lost a lot of self-confidence at that time, but thankfully my self-confidence came back again, because of friends and supportive people.”

Opening Night will also be the first time he can show off his tattoos at work. Usually they are covered with heavy makeup.

Part of Opening Night takes place outside the theater, with Myrtle passed out outside the stage door in a drunken stupor and the scene projected onto a screen inside the auditorium.

Now word has spread about the scene, and Sheridan says people are “crowding around” West End theaters to watch.

“I would love for people to get involved,” he laughs, “because it adds to everything, makes it so lively and real, which is never done in the theater.”