THE last time I saw Ria Jones she was tap-dancing in lumpy tights, clutching a tea tray, with a hairnet pulled tight and a pair of rubber gloves sticking out of her pinny.

As much-loved Mrs Overall, Ria delighted audiences on a UK tour of Acorn Antiques back in 2007. Her current role, as tragic, deluded movie star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, couldn't be more different.

As the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tony-winning masterpiece, delving into the dark side of post-war Hollywood, Ria has had standing ovations nightly, in the West End and on tour. She was Glenn Close's understudy in London when, in 2016, she found herself in the spotlight. Close was ill and when it was announced to the audience that she wouldn't be performing, Ria was backstage, listening to boos from the auditorium. Some people demanded their money back. But Ria went on stage - and blew the audience, and critics, away.

"The show had to go on. I had to step into Glenn Close's shoes. Those four performances changed my life," smiles Ria.

In her Sunset Boulevard mansion, Norma Desmond, faded silent screen goddess, lives in a fantasy world. When debt-ridden write Joe Gillis stumbles into her life, she spies a chance to revive her career. Joe enjoys Norma's money and attention, and soon the pair are embroiled in a doomed relationship.

Ria first encountered Norma a quarter of a century ago, when she workshopped the musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber. At 24, she was too young to play the ageing, embittered film star. "It's a role you have to grow into," says Ria, 50. "It's great to finally put my own stamp on it. I've sung those songs so many times over the years - now I'm singing them in context."

And what songs! With a score that includes As If We Never Said Goodbye, With One Look and The Perfect Year, and Norma's memorable line: "Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up", this musical packs a punch.

"It's a very cinematic show," says Ria. "Norma was one of the first movie actresses to be washed up in the industry. Silent movie stars were like gods; they were big money earners, adored by the public. Then, suddenly, they were out of style. The industry changed and they were discarded.

"Norma is vulnerable but she can Joe use each other. They're both flawed, but believable. This show lays bare the human condition. It's about ageing, and acceptance - how we should look to the future not live in the past."

Swansea-born Ria was the youngest actress ever to play Eva Peron in Evita, landing the role at just 19. Other theatre credits include Chess, Cats and The Witches of Eastwick, and on TV she has been in such dramas a Torchwood and When Eric Met Ernie.

"Older actresses are more celebrated these days, it's quite encouraging," says Ria.

A far cry from Norma's day...

* Sunset Boulevard runs at the Alhambra, Monday to Saturday. Call (01274) 432000.