Lesley Joseph first cemented herself as a nation’s favourite by playing loveable man-eater Dorien Green from Birds of a Feather and just as the hit sitcom returns to our screen, Lesley also makes a welcome return to the stage as the tyrannical Miss Hannigan in the much loved musical Annie.
The new touring production will arrive at the Millennium Forum this week including all the unforgettable songs such as Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, I Don’t Need Anything But You and of course, Tomorrow.
But like any classic story, it has made the journey not only to stage, but also screen, most recently in 2014’s remake starring Jamie Foxx. But which does Lesley prefer and has she taken any inspiration from past productions? “I always preferred the stage shows but as lovely as they all were, I just came into it fresh. I had seen Craig Revel Horwood do it before me and he was wonderful.”
Annie is filled to the brim with instantly recognisable songs, but does she have a favourite? “Easy Street is wonderful. Easy Street is the song to which Rooster and Lily arrive at Hannigans office. They have got nothing, but they sing this song about how their mother used to say “this is where you’ll end up, on Easy Street where people sleep until noon and you will have lots of money”. That’s always been my favourite.
“I have to say though, I love Tomorrow as well. It’s a bit like an anthem of hope really. What’s lovely about that song is when it is sung throughout the show, it always says “tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, it’s always a day away” but when it gets to the end it changes to “it’s only a day away” which gives an element of hope.”
Always a great lover of the stage, Lesley has been involved in theatre for much of her acting career and in speaking to her, her passion for the job comes through in abundance, “I love it and my favourite place in the world is standing in the wings of a theatre looking at people acting on stage. It’s a wonderful business to be in and I love all aspects of it.”
Many decades have passed since Lesley tread her first boards in theatre. It has changed in many ways along the way “it has changed a lot. When I started, you had the repertory system where people would go off and learn how to act, learn about great actors and perform a play once a week. It was a wonderful place to learn your craft. But then that all that changed. A lot of the reps closed down and television ate theatre alive and then I suppose even reality television hit.
“Sometimes people just wanted to be famous as opposed to wanting to act. I think people’s reasons for going into the business have changed a little bit too. I still think that it’s a wonderful business to be in and my heart goes out to people who are just starting out because there aren’t a lot of places where they can learn how to do it really.”
An art form like theatre always runs the risk of finding itself intertwined and becoming involved in the “reality” movement, but what advice would a seasoned professional such as Lesley give to those budding actors out there? “Only go into the business if you really couldn’t bear to think about doing anything else with your life.
“As they say, it’s 80 percent work, 10 percent talent and 10 percent luck. If a job has your name on it, do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a tiny little place somewhere. I got Birds of a Feather after performing a lunch time play in Covent Garden and that changed my life. I always say only do it if you really love it and can’t think of doing anything else, and work jolly hard!”
Annie the Musical UK Tour Trailer
An all-rounder, Lesley has been a regular across stage, screen and radio over the years, but which does she find is more pressurised? “They have their different pressures. On the radio you have to keep talking and all you have is your voice and you don’t have anything else to help you. Television, if it’s live that’s huge pressure because you can’t swear, you can’t do the wrong thing because it’s going out to millions of people.
“Film is not so pressurised because if something goes wrong, you can simply do it again. But live theatre, if it goes wrong, it goes wrong in front of a house full of people.“
Even at the age of 70, Lesley shows no sign of slowing down. Now with Birds of a Feather back on our screens and many more seasons in the pipeline, did it take much convincing to bring back the much loved hit show? “No, because we had performed it on stage and we had heard the reaction that it had which was overwhelming. It just meant that it hadn’t gone away in people’s minds.
“We had originally taken it to the BBC but they only had wanted to do a Christmas Special but that would have been really difficult after fifteen years.
So we took it to ITV who have been fantastic. They have been phenomenal and it’s been a huge success. “
Her pride shines through when speaking about the show which made her a household name “we love working on it, it’s almost not like work, and it’s like doing something with your family. It’s been a joy, and what has been really lovely too is knowing that the public have enjoyed it also.”
Photo credit Paul Coltas