YORK actress Joanne Heywood will tap dance her way through the summer in Scarborough.

From Thursday to August 3, she will be appear in Richard Harris’s evergreen comedy Stepping Out at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, directed by artistic director Paul Robinson.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time my play has been performed in the round and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works," says the London playwright, now 85. "Not that I have any doubts because if anyone knows how to do ‘in the round’, it’s my new friends at the SJT."

Joanne will play dance teacher Mavis, one of the roles that demands a good standard of dancing. "I initially auditioned for Vera, but the lovely Gemma [Page], who went in before me, was cast in that role," she reveals.

"But they called me in the next day to look at two other characters, Mavis and Maxine, and they decided to cast me as Mavis, who they need to be among the best dancers in the cast as she's an ex professional dancer...and I'd trained in dance.

"Growing up in York, I went to the fabulous Isobel Dunn Dance School from the age of three to 17, and bless her heart, Isobel is the reason I'm here now, performing professionally."

Dance had been Joanne's original choice of career. "At least it was when I was too young to know!" she says. "But at the age of 14, Miss Dunn cast me as the lead in Gypsy and that's when I first thought 'maybe I should do musical theatre studies'."

Joanne duly attended the Guildford School of Acting before making her professional debut in Gypsy at Sheffield Crucible. She went on to appear as Dilys in two series of First Of The Summer Wine from 1991, and in a career that has encompassed roles all over the country, she has taken opportunities aplenty to return to her home city to perform at York Theatre Royal.

There she has played Cecily Pigeon in The Odd Couple, Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet, Patricia in Behind The Scenes At The Museum, both Lottie Grady and Mrs Northrop in When We Are Married and principal boy in seven Berwick Kaler pantomimes.

In North Yorkshire too, she has starred in Esk Valley Theatre productions of Last Of The Red Hot Lovers and One For The Road at Glaisdale, near Whitby. Now, she is making her SJT debut in Stepping Out as Mavis, a character with much more than a smiley tap-dancing front to her

"In the first half, we see glimpses of that. Gradually there are revelations that Mavis doesn't have a happy home life , and now she's a teacher rather than still performing, that's a sadness to her," says Joanne.

"She becomes a lot less happy than she first seems, and as the show approaches, the pressure's mounting as she expects her dancers to be like professionals when they're amateurs."

Premiered in 1984 and turned into a film by Lewis Gilbert in 1991, Stepping Out has sustained its popularity. "It's not a musical but a play with music that has a feelgood factor to it," says Joanne.

"You could put it on anywhere, so though it was originally set in London, we're setting it in the north. Like The Full Monty, it has an everyman appeal.

"A lot of the characters are having a tough time, so dancing is a bit of escapism, and people can relate to that."

Joanne is working with director Paul Robinson for the first time, "I've been teasing him that I had three auditions for the play when everyone else in the cast had one, but that was because he was trying to find a role for me!" she says.

That role involves the experiences of dancing in the round setting: a 360-degree stage. "The challenge for Erin [Carter], our choreographer, has been to make it fluid, so that everyone gets a good view, wherever they sit, and that's why we're doing a lot of diagonals and turning," says Joanne.

Tickets are on sale on 01723 370541or at sjt.uk.com

Charles Hutchinson