West End singer Ria Jones returns to Swansea Grand Theatre next week. She talks to MARK REES about Christmas in Swansea, and how she now lives life to the full having won her battle with breast cancer
This time last year, having won her battle with breast cancer, Ria Jones made a triumphant return to her hometown theatre to present her life story in song.
The show at Swansea Grand Theatre, the very same venue where she first appeared on-stage in panto alongside Clive Dunn at the age of nine, was a success.
So much so, in fact, that she’s decided to do it again — and this time out, it will be a festive, rather than a reflective, celebration.
“I’m coming back to Swansea for Christmas – they let me back in!” she laughs when we meet up ahead of what now appears to be an annual Yuletide visit.
“I’d had a bad year before coming back last time, and I was blown away by the welcome I received. Swansea audiences are so welcoming, especially as I’m a home-grown girl.”
And having beaten the disease, Ria says that she can now concentrate on the good things in life.
“It’s been nearly three years now, and I just look at it as part of my journey,” she says.
“We all take life for granted, and something like that really gives you a kick up the bum.
“Now I don’t want to waste a day. When I hear people moaning about little things, like the rain, I just think – it really doesn’t matter. It’s raining? Great! It’s lovely!” she says with a smile.
“We all take life for granted, and something like that really gives you a kick up the bum.”
“I socialise more now, and I don’t put anything off. If I can do it today, I’ll do it today – unless it’s paying bills!
“And I got myself a dog. She’s called Dotty. She was the star of the show last year, and she’ll be making an appearance again this year.”
Dotty also benefits from a few scenic walkies whenever Ria gets a chance to come home.
“I always go to Oxwich Bay when I’m back to get some fresh air in my lungs. I’ve travelled a lot, and it’s one of the best views in the world,” she says of Gower’s glorious sandy beach.
“I love to walk from Langland to Caswell, and I always visit Cwmdonkin Park, which is right by where I grew up.”
And it was while growing there that Ria took her first tentative steps into showbiz.
“I was lucky, my parents introduced me and my brother to theatre at an early age,” she says of her initiation into the world of live entertainment alongside her female-impersonating sibling Ceri Dupree, who she recently teamed-up with for a spell on the London stage.
“We’ve just done a show together in the West End at St James Theatre called Misleading Ladies,” she explains.
“I’d just finished Jerry’s Girls in London, and I was talking to the guy who booked the shows who said ‘I’d love to keep having review shows in the theatre.’
“I said, ‘I know one you can put on’. We’d done it originally in Swansea and Cardiff, but we had about three hours to put it together back then. This time we were able to do it properly, and it was so successful, the reviews were fantastic and there’s talk of us going off Broadway with it.
“I’ll be doing a selection from it in the show in Swansea, and we’re looking at bringing the whole show back to Swansea next year.”
“I always go to Oxwich Bay when I’m back to get some fresh air in my lungs. I’ve travelled a lot, and it’s one of the best views in the world.”
Ria adds that, despite being known for her roles in the some of the world’s biggest musicals, working with her brother on their own project is a more appealing prospect to her right now.
“When you’re doing a musical, eight shows a week for two years, it can take over your life,” she tells me.
“And the older you get, certainly for females, the parts just aren’t around. They say that about film, and it’s the same with musicals. There’s Gypsy, Mame, Sunset Boulevard, and that’s about it.
“I think to myself now, how did I manage to sing Memory in Cats every day for two years except Sunday?
“It was the same with Les Miserables for two or three years, but that’s just what people did.
“Now, they ask you to sign up for 18 months at the start, and I couldn’t do that now – mentally, I would just go crazy.
“My favourite part has always been rehearsing, that’s when you can be creative. Then you get the costumes, and get on stage and it’s brilliant. Opening night is such an adrenalin rush, with all the reviewers in —who you hope like it!
“But the hard one is the night after it, that’s when the hard work really starts.”
Not that Ria has to worry about second-night syndrome at her Swansea Grand gig next week — it will be a one-off, unique, never-to-be-repeated evening of musical entertainment.
“I’m giving it more of a Christmas flavour this time, and it will have a feel-good factor,” she says.
“I celebrate the women I admire, like Doris Day, and songs from Jerry’s Girls, based on the music of Jerry Herman who did Hello Dolly, Mame, Mack and Mabel — all those beautiful songs.
“I’ve got some surprise guests joining me, and a lovely live band. There are so many hardships in life, I just want to get people out at Christmas to have a good time. A few hours of escapism – we’ll have a party.”
And if you’re undecided about popping along, Ria has some final words: “Take the chance. If you don’t like it, you can leave in the interval!
“But if you like it, fantastic. A lot of people don’t go to the theatre, and they’ll be pleasantly surprised. People get so used to watching X Factor on TV, we’ve lost our theatre etiquette, but I just love live theatre.
“It’s an experience, and it’s good to get out of the house, to hear live music and to be a part of it. Theatre can sometimes be seen as a bit daunting, a bit formal, but I encourage people to party, to shout and cheer. For me, the audience are part of the show.
“I can’t wait — and hopefully they’ll let me back next year as well. Third time lucky!”
Ria Jones: Home For Christmas, Swansea Grand Theatre, Friday, December 4, 7.30pm