For a plain speaking North Yorkshire woman like Ionica Adriana, playing a feisty panto princess with a bit of bite is right up her street.
“Oh definitely, but I have no expectation at all apart from I know it’s going to be joyous, I just love it,” she says during a break in a photo shoot for the posters and artwork – the first time she has met her co-stars.
“I’ve always been Photoshopped onto posters before, so this is ace. It’s really nice to meet everyone before the start of rehearsals as well. I know it’s going to be hard work, but it’s what the job is all about.”
Stage and screen actor Ionica is playing Princess Jasmine in Aladdin at Lighthouse this Christmas and after a busy year she’s looking forward to being in one place for a few weeks.
“Usually, I don’t even know what I’m doing next week, I very much live by the seat of my pants – no plans,” she says. “This year I’ve done a lot of hosting with big dance conventions. At one point I didn’t even have enough hours to get to the next gig, I had to drive through the night to make it.
“But that’s what this job is all about, you’re constantly navigating an invisible diary.”
Ionica is arguably best known from her appearance as a judge in All Together Now, BBC One’s singing competition fronted by Rob Beckett and Geri Horner, but she’s also filmed an episode of Celebrity Pointless with her Aladdin co-star Melinda Messenger.
“I met Alim [Jadavji, who’s playing Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin] at the Panto Awards this year and he recommended me to reach out to Lighthouse and ask if they were seeing anyone for panto this year, so that’s how the connection was made.
“I love celebrating people and anything in this industry, so I think for something like panto that is so niche and its own entity really, it was a great thing to be at. One of my friends asked if I wanted to go – or maybe I nagged her – and we had a great time and met Alim. Now, here I am and I can’t wait to get to work.”
Last year, Ionica made the documentary Ceausescu’s Children for BBC Radio 4 in which she returned to her native Romania to uncover its past and her own history. Until the age of two-and-a-half she lived in an orphanage in Cluj-Napoca and became one of the first children to be adopted from Romania after the fall of the hated dictator Nicolae Ceausesco in 1989.
She also features in a new documentary Adopted Perspectives created by Andreea Helena David, another Romanian adoptee, and regularly speaks about adoption to young people.
“It’s very much a part of who I am, but it doesn’t determine any work,” she explains. “When I auditioned for this my history and my beginnings don’t influence my career so if I hadn’t been able to sing well enough or wasn’t right for the part, I wouldn’t have been booked.
“We’ve always celebrated adoption in our family so if I can do an interview on it and share the positivity then that’s great. If I can be the source of positivity – and it’s genuine positivity – then they’re only going to get the correct and accurate information from me, I have control of what goes out.
“It’s about respecting everyone because these are real people that have not chosen to be in the spotlight, their jobs don’t require this, but when you do this job people want to know that information so if it comes from source – me – it is totally accurate. That way I feel I can protect it. I respect everyone involved, the country’s history, that’s what is most important to me. I would never want to exploit anyone.”
In conversation, Ionica is friendly and open, ready to laugh and clearly enjoys the warm reception she found at Lighthouse, taking everything in yet completely focussed on the task at hand. Surprisingly, acting seems to have found her rather than the other way round.
“I did drama classes and GCSE Drama at school, but I always thought I was going to be a gymnast or do sport,” she confesses.
“It was only went I went to York College and did the Musical Theatre course after not being able to do the Photography course, and was only one of the lucky few to get into drama school that year, that I finally realised not to take it for granted but to take it seriously.
“And I’ve been taking it seriously ever since. You’ve got to be all in, there’s no Half-a-Job Harry. You sacrifice a lot in terms of growing up, you miss a lot of your friends’ birthdays, weddings and stuff like that, especially when you first start out because you have to go where the work is.
“But I love it, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
:: Written and directed by Chris Jarvis, who appears as Widow Twankey, with Production Designer James Smith and Musical Supervisor Darren Reeves, Aladdin stars Melinda Messenger as the Spirit of the Ring and features Ionica Adriana as Princess Jasmine and Bournemouth-born Josh Haberfield as the comic character Wishee-Washee. Pantomime Award winners Andrew Pollard and Alim Jadavji, whose winning double act as the ugly sisters in Cinderella last year stole the show, are back at Lighthouse playing the villain Professor Pocus and Genie of the Lamp respectively. In his pantomime debut, the title role is played by West End actor Benjamin Armstrong.
:: Aladdin opens on Thursday 7 December and runs until New Year’s Eve. Tickets are on sale now at www.lighthousepoole.co.uk, or call 01202 280000.