Bury St Edmunds: Grandmother survives heart attack on stage

AUDITIONING for a part in a stage show is bound to stir a flutter of nerves in anticipation of landing a dream role.

But for one am-dram veteran from west Suffolk what her fellow actors thought were butterflies was something rather more serious.

While reading for a part in Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s musical ‘Follies’ Gloria Stewart suffered a heart attack - and still got the part.

The 77-year-old said she had left the audition certain she had blown her chances and feeling “pretty poorly” - and after 60 years treading the boards she was mystified as to why she had lost her cool.

As her condition worsened she even managed to drive herself to West Suffolk Hospital, Bury, where doctors began to investigate her symptoms.

The grandmother-of-six from from Rickinghall said: “I thought it had gone terribly. I was mortified. I don’t forget words and things, and I thought ‘I cannot believe what’s happening to me’.

“And they said ‘never mind, it’s probably just nerves’ and I thought ‘golley, I have been in theatre sort of 50 years,’ but in actual fact that [the heart attack] was what was wrong with me. In a way it was a relief to find out it wasn’t me.

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“I just got on with the audition. I knew I had got some pains in my chest. I do get very wound up sometimes and indigestion.”

Mrs Stewart, who also set up the Berkeley Squares musical group, said they confirmed at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge - where she was transferred to after four days - she had suffered a heart attack. Luckily it was not a major attack during a follow-up with a heart surgeon.

She has to take heart tablets - probably for the rest of her life - but she will not let this health scare keep her away from the stage.

Mrs Stewart - who is playing Emily Whitman in Follies - said she loved performing and her talent clearly runs in the family.

Her daughter Laura Stewart, 45, and granddaughter Grace Stewart-Hogg, 14, also got parts in the show. “I am very pleased we are all doing it together,” she said.

Debbie Croll, honorary secretary of society, said: “Such a range of natural ability in one family should not go unnoticed and both as a society, and for the theatre-goers themselves, we are indeed privileged to have their combined talents at our disposal.”

As well as three generations of the same family, Follies - a show about couples who met through the theatre - also features three couples who met during the society’s shows and subsequently got married.

They are Chris and Jackie Strahm, Phil and Joyce Amtower and Cary Palmer and Judith Thomas, all from Bury.

Follies is at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday, April 24, until Saturday, April 28, at 7.30pm. There is a Saturday matinee performance at 2.30pm.

For tickets contact the box office on 01284 769505.