To say Steve Huison's latest role is a departure for him would be something of an understatement.

The Shipley actor, who rose to fame in hit movie The Full Monty, has been tackling issues relating to depression in a play based on his friend's suicide, as his theatre company produces dramas aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness.

But this Christmas Steve will be enjoying a bit of light relief, playing the Dame in Harrogate Theatre's production of The Sleeping Beauty. As Nanny Clutterbuck, he'll be wearing a series of outlandish costumes and accessories and has some fast changes.

"It's my first panto, I'm looking forward to it but it's going to be hard work," says Steve. "The dance routines are a particular challenge! I've got eight costumes and they're all very elaborate. I've got wigs and some huge headresses; I'm wearing stuff like a toy box and balancing a washing-up basin on my head!

"The Dame is clearly a man dressed as a woman so that's the comedy I'm going with. I'm not doing the camp thing, I'm just a man in a frock.

"I'm doing my own make-up, I was playing around with it the other day, experimenting with different looks! My old art school training will come in handy, I can be as creative as I like."

Throwing yourself into a physically-demanding comic role for a six-week run is going to be demanding, but Steve is relishing the challenge.

"It's fun, that's what it's all about," he says. "The roots of pantomime go back earlier than Shakespearean times, it's a great tradition and one of the few things families can watch together. The first thing I saw in a theatre was a panto, hopefully the kids who come along will want to come back and see some more theatre."

Originally from Leeds, Steve now lives in Shipley which is where his Shoestring Theatre Company is based. The company recently launched a drama project for psychiatric hospital patients and joined forces with a mother whose son died after a history of cannabis-induced psychosis.

Shoestring produced a cautionary play called Reading the Signs for secondary schools to try and reduce the stigma and discrimination suffered by people with mental illness.

"We're taking it on a national schools tour," says Steve.

"It's important that young people understand that we have a mental health as well as a physical health and both need to be looked after. One in four people are affected by mental health problems, it's something that touches most people in some way.

"Kids are often scared by anything with the word mental' in it, but Reading the Signs urges them to talk about it and support people with problems. The performances come with teaching packs to encourage classroom debate. First and foremost we look to produce quality drama, whatever the subject matter, but we always encourage debate after each performance."

Early next year Steve will be touring a one-man play called Fifty Feet and Falling, based on the diaries of a friend who struggled with depression and took his own life.

"It was very revealing reading his diary and discovering a different part of his persona," he says. "His widow showed it to me and asked me to do something positive with it, and I think that's what we've done with this play. It's ultimately quite uplifting, despite the subject matter."

As well as devising and putting on plays the company holds workshops for aspiring actors.

"We cover things like working with cameras, improvisation, voice skills and audition techniques, and we look at life as an actor," says Steve.

"No matter how well known you are, you have to be prepared for the lean times. In between acting roles I've taken all kinds of jobs from working with sheltered housing to pulling pints. It's all good experience for acting."

A decade ago Steve was riding high with The Full Monty, Keighley writer Simon Beaufoy's hit movie about unemployed steel workers who turn to stripping. "I enjoyed it while it lasted but I stayed grounded, I knew I'd have to go back to real life once all the red carpet stuff was over," says Steve.

Recently he played Cheryl's nerdy date in The Royle Family. "The cast and crew are really tight, they've worked together from the start and are like a real family. The crew pay meticulous attention to detail, they spent two-and-a-half hours just lighting the set! It looks like they've just stuck a lamp on but a lot of work goes into making it all look that real."

  • The Sleeping Beauty runs at Harrogate Theatre from November 30 to January 7. For tickets call (01423) 502116.
The Shoestring Theatre Company is holding its next actors' workshop in March 2007. For more details ring 07899 772903.