She is best known for playing two of the nastier and conniving characters in the soap world.
But Gemma Bissix is preparing for something completely different by starring in the adult comedy Funny Peculiar opposite a host of TV favourites. John Bultitude caught up with her to find out more.
There is no doubt about it. Gemma Bissix may not thank you for thinking it but she cornered the market in the nasty blonde bombshells in soap…called Clare.
Whether it was Nigel’s daughter in EastEnders or the conniving businesswoman Clare Devine in Hollyoaks, Gemma incensed millions of soap fans with her game playing, manipulation and general evil.
But she is leaving that all behind to star in Funny Peculiar, a revival of Mike Stott’s classic comedy, which comes to Norwich Theatre Royal on 30 April-May 5.
It follows the story of small-town grocer Trevor Tinsley, played by Craig Gazey aka Coronation Street’s Graeme Proctor.
Despite having a devoted wife and a new baby, he is tempted to stray with his neighbour’s wife which provokes a series of comic situations among the members of his strait-laced community.
As well as Gemma and Craig, the show’s cast-list reads like a Who’s Who of prime time TV favourites with others starring in the show including Vicky Entwistle who played the super-brassy Janice Battersby in Coronation Street, Hear’say band member turned Emmerdale siren Suzanne Shaw, and Steven Blakely aka PC Geoff Younger in Sunday night TV favourite Heartbeat.
And it seems that Gemma loves playing the part of Shirley Smith in the show, a character with some very definite character traits. She explained: “Shirley is great. I guess she is a little bit like Barbara Windsor in the Carry On films. Bluntly, my character is a bit of a swinger. She is a bit of a hippyish type who is into free love.”
Gemma also loves the writing of the late Northern playwright Mike Stott who penned the comedy and relished highlighting the quirks of ordinary life. She explained: “It is a very funny play and very tongue in cheek. It is also fantastic for me to play someone a bit different after playing some evil characters.”
The rich seam of down-to-earth humour in Stott’s work is loved by the cast who have been working hard to squeeze every ounce of comedy on the show really helping them bond. Gemma said: “This play is great fun to work on. It is interesting that it only seemed to start getting funnier during rehearsals. Of course, there were some very funny lines when we were reading it but we found lots more funny lines as we went along.”
And Gemma has particularly bonded with Vicky Entwistle. The two have become great friends off stage and Vicky has also inspired her with her performance too. Gemma said: “Vicky is absolutely fantastic on stage. In fact, she has become a bit of an inspiration for me. I have been watching how she works and I hope I can pick things up from her.”
Gemma started acting at a very young age picking up the part of Clare Bates, daughter of Albert Square favourite Nigel, in EastEnders at the age of nine. Looking back, she believes that being high-profile at a young age was actually a good thing. Gemma explained: “In some ways, I didn’t really know any different. I started at drama school and I was still doing my GCSE’s. I suppose I really just got on with it really. I did learn an awful lot and gained an awful lot from being in EastEnders though.”
After leaving the show, she ended up taking a break from the public eye and taking on a wide range of different jobs both inside – and outside – the acting profession. Gemma recalled: “I did do some odd work – an episode of Doctors and things like that – but it was really hard between the ages of 18 and 21 as I was growing up into an adult. I did a few different jobs and ran a pub. I was always going to auditions and trying for parts but nothing really came up.”
That was until the role of Clare Devine/Cunningham came along in Channel Four soap Hollyoaks. This was a role which saw her redefine evil even resorting to attempted murder in some memorably gripping scenes. Gemma said: “It was a fantastic experience and she was a fantastic character. If I had done the things she had done in real life, I would have ended up on Death Row.”
She particularly menaced the popular character Max and OB, played by Matt Littler and Darren Jeffries, leading to some gripping scenes which boosted the Hollyoaks ratings. While it may have been full-on nastiness and venom on screen, it was a different story behind the scenes, as Gemma recalls. “I got on so well with the actors I worked with,” she said.
And that bonding with the cast has definitely carried forward into Funny Peculiar. Gemma said: “We all get on very well and we do go out quite a bit together. We do like going out for drinks and meals.”
So it definitely seems that laughs offstage lead to laughs onstage for a show promising lots of Spring smiles at Norwich Theatre Royal.
Funny Peculiar is at Norwich Theatre Royal, Monday 30 April-Saturday 5 May at 7.30pm, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £5.50-£22. Contains some strong language and adult humour, and is not suitable for children. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club and Groups.
BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk