Lesley Joseph is about to star as the infamous Miss Hannigan in Annie at the Manchester Opera House on 25th and 26th September. We caught up with her to find out how she feels about theatre compared to TV and what it's like to play the baddy!
For those who haven't seen it- what can they expect from the musical?
Most people will know Annie and will have seen it or know about it. It takes place in the depression in 1933. Annie lives in an orphanage with the rather dreadful Miss Hannigan and a few other kids. She gets taken out of the orphanage to spend Christmas with Daddy Warbucks who is a billionaire. He's going through a hard time during the depression. They set out to find her parents but she ends up staying with Oliver Warbucks.
It's a really feel good musical but in this production it really takes it down to nitty gritty. There is no sentimentality about it. There is a great number called 'Hooverville' where you see the homeless and you get much more of a taste of what it was like in America at that time. There is no sort of sugar coating on the pill.
It is just a fantastic musical; it's a very cleverly crafted musical for the whole family. You could bring kids from about three upwards and they all want to be Annie. Of course Annie has a dog- she finds a dog as she is wandering the streets trying to look for her parents. It's a really well-crafted successful musical that has lasted the test of time. This is a fantastic new production by Nikolai Foster who runs the Curve in Leicester. He has a really wonderful new thought process that he's brought to the whole thing and it just really works. It's exciting!
Please can you tell us how you got involved in the project in the first place?
I did Annie 10 years ago and I got asked by the producers if I would like to do it again. Craig Revel Horwood has opened in it- I'm doing Birds of a Feather at the moment and Craig's doing Annie. Craig has just started doing Strictly Come Dancing- while he goes at weekends to do Strictly, I'm going to play Hannigan for him on Saturdays then next year I take over the role completely. It's one of those things that just fitted in with everyone. Craig was doing it and need Saturdays off; I could so Saturdays because we only do Birds of a Feather on Wednesdays at Pinewood so it all fitted in really.
Next year I take over the role completely for five months. Before then we get to go to Monaco which is very exciting! We will be doing Annie in Monte Carlo which is real treat. I love doing musicals and its one of those parts that I would do forever. I never get bored of it- it has the wonderful Easy Street which is the one where Hannigan dances and sings with her brother- that's just glorious! I get a chance to do everything I love so I'm thrilled.
The original broad way production started back in 1977 so why do you think it's stood the test of time and still appeals to audiences so many years later?
People ask me that about Birds of a Feather- 'why do you think 25 years later you are still on screen?' Sometimes a musical, a TV show or a play has the right chemistry at the right time and catches the public's imaginations. It's a feel good musical it's not a sloppy, sentimental musical. It's quite hard hitting at times. Just one of those things that moves along; that's cleverly crafted and has fantastic songs.
'Tomorrow' has to be the beacon of hope; everyone knows that song, it's simply caught the public's imagination and has just never gone away.
What's lovely about this time around is that it's a whole new lively production. It's been rethought and reconfigured; it's got fresh choreography and fresh costumes and ideas. It's fresh with everything. It has stood the test of time and will continue to stand the test of time. It will probably be here much longer than you or I are here. It's one of those all-time great American musicals.
You've been hugely successful in TV and done the likes of Calendar Girls and Hot Flush on stage, so do you have a preference between the two and how do they compare for you?
I love the two really; I came into the business to go on stage. I first trod the boards in Northampton at age seven in the new theatre. Playing in theatre was my first love then television happened. I love that and I love doing Birds of a Feather. I love the girls, we have an absolute ball- we've been doing it for 25 years and that's a really long time.
I'm very lucky to be able to go between one to the other- that's a huge bonus. You really get the chance to flex your muscles in both.
I love theatre and it's what I went into the business to do but I love the way television works. You have to be in a certain spot and in a certain place. I adore live television because you only get one chance at it and that's it, so you can screw up.
I'm lucky to be able to go between the two, if someone said to me I have to choose, I don't think I could; I love theatre but I also love television.
What is the atmosphere like backstage during rehearsals?
It's a very strong company and what's lovely about the company is everyone is very important. That's what you do get with a show like Annie. Every cog in that wheel is important. Obviously Annie is majorly important as she has more to do than anybody but it's never a question of this performance or that performance; everyone is vital in this show. Everyone makes a difference there are no weak links in this production.
It's a very happy company- of course I haven't gone into it yet, I open in Manchester- to do Saturday, then Monte Carlo and then I take over fully. I have done all my rehearsals with the company and they are very positive and just smashing!
What was it about the character of Miss Hannigan that appealed so much to you?
She's a baddy that you love to hate. She is appalling towards the kids but it's the depression. She has no money, she is stuck in this life- she has no life really. What you see is one of those characters, much like Dorian because she's not that nice some of the time either. Both characters are vibrant and you want to see them on stage or screen. Hannigan is such a great character because she's nasty but you see the reason for the nastiness. She's insecure, she has no life it's the depression, she has no money and she has got an evil brother. I think Rooster, her brother, is far more evil than Hannigan. When he suggests going away with Annie, she goes with him because she's got no choice really. She just wants a life for herself. She's one of those characters who's bad but you sort of love her anyway.
If you had to pick a favourite scene from the musical which would it be?
Easy Street, the scene with Rooster, where he first visits and says 'your life is like my life- we're losers- remembering what our mother said to us?' I think that scene leading into that number is the reason why I came back and did me again.
What is your fondest memory from your long career?
I don't think I could say any of them- I owe a huge amount to Birds of a Feather, I love Annie. I don't think I could say I have one particular thing I love more than anything else. Doing panto down in Southampton and having Michael Aspel walk on and do This Is Your Life was fairy special. As was having a rose named after me at Chelsea. There are lots of bits but I don't think I could choose because each job that you do has something magical to it.
What is next for you?
I don't know because I'm doing this till next June so I that's as far ahead as I'm going to think right now! I do panto in South End, Annie and Birds of a Feather so I think that's enough for the time being.