A STAR of stage and screen surprised a cast of young performers as they prepared to reopen a historic theatre with a dazzling performance.

Lee Mead, 39, paid a visit to the West Cliff Theatre, in Tower Road, Clacton, on Saturday ahead of his own show at the venue later this year.

He watched the dress rehearsal for Evolution Dance Foundation’s Class of 2020/21 show, which later that evening became the theatre’s first performance in six months.

Only the night before, Lee, who will tread the boards at the West Cliff on September 10, achieved a lifelong ambition of playing the London Palladium.

He has previously wowed audiences in shows such as Wicked, Phantom of the Opera and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Before then he won the Any Dream Will Do competition on the BBC in 2007, going on to perform as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

He is also well known for starring in long-running BBC shows Casualty and Holby City, and has also appeared in the hit comedy, Motherland.

Rob Mitchell-Gears, theatre manager, said: “Lee has performed here several times and absolutely loves this venue and the team here.

“He has even bought family to watch shows and is always supportive. He is such a lovely guy, very down to earth, genuine, and passionate about live theatre.

“Lee was invited as he and Mark Connell, one of the teaching staff, have been friends for years since working on Miss Saigon together.

“This of course was a thrill for the students and it is always a pleasure to have Lee here with us.”