SUZY Cooper, the perennial principal girl in the York Theatre Royal pantomime, will be back for the first show post-Berwick Kaler's 40-year damehood.

Before she joins fellow regulars David Leonard, Martin Barrass and AJ Powell in Sleeping Beauty's run from December 7 to January 25, however, she will be playing a role that could not be more contrasting this summer.

Suzy will be making her Shakespeare's Rose Theatre debut as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's gory tragedy Macbeth, as well as enjoying the light relief of Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the Pop-Up Shakespearean Theatre's new second home, Blenheim Palace, from July 8 to September 7.

Sine May 20, Suzy has been rehearsing at Lunchbox Theatrical Productions' purpose-built rehearsal village at the York Designer Outlet, as part of a company of 75 actors, 12 musicians, 41 crew and 22 creatives at work on eight plays in seven marquees.

"I saw last summer's productions of Macbeth and 'the Dream', as my husband, Chris [Christopher Madin], did the music for therm, and those are the two I'm doing this year, so I've had a bit of a head's up," says Suzy. "If you've been to Shakespeare's Globe in London, you'll have an idea of what this theatrical experience involves. It's not open-air theatre but the theatre is open to the elements, so that's a challenge for the audience and the cast."

Playing Lady Macbeth will be a challenge too, says Suzy. "The scale of that challenge is that so many people know the role, and they want to know what choices you've made in the way you play her, and what your expectations are.

"As with all roles, you approach it truthfully, and then you go from there," she suggests. "A lot of the drama for Lady Macbeth happens off-stage, including her death, so each time you see her on stage there's a big leap from when you last saw her. She goes from urging Macbeth to murder the King, to placating him, telling him he needs to sleep, to talking aloud when she's sleepwalking, and then we learn of her death.

"In terms of her development, there's little in the text that's helpful for the performer, so it's interesting to decide how she's driven. It almost feels like scenes have been cut, so you have to fill in the gaps for yourself for the audience to understand where you're coming from. From the first day of rehearsals, I have to find out how to unlock the door to her. "

Being part of a troupe of 75 actors rehearsing eight plays is a novel experience for Suzy. "It's terrifying at first! You have to remember that actors are quite insecure; it's always surprising when you get a job, and then you're thrown into the rehearsal process, this time with so many of us, spread across eight plays, rather than just one, so that's scary, but at the same time there's a real buzz to it."

Keeping it in the family, Suzy and Chris's son, Louis, will be joining her in the Macbeth company, playing Macduff's son. "When I told him he'd be getting out of school early, he said 'I'll do it'!" Suzy recalls.

Suzy's second summer role returns her to a play she appeared in previously at York Theatre Royal in 2001. "I played Tom Snout, the Tinker, and I loved it," she says. "I was there to play la Marquise de Merteuil [the elegant ice queen] in Les Liaisons Dangereuses that repertory season, but actually, the 'Dream' was the show I got more out of.

"It was a dream, a treat, so it's lovely to be able to re-visit it, playing Peter Quince, but as a woman, not a man, so I've been thinking I could play it a bit like Aladdin!"

This mention of Aladdin triggers thoughts about this winter's Theatre Royal pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, which will be written by newly retired dame Berwick Kaler, who will co-direct the show with a new recruit, freelance director Matt Aston

"It makes sense to have Berwick still writing it; it'll be different without him on stage, but we're still doing a York Berwick pantomime." says Suzy.

Charles Hutchinson