Laughing at the menopause
Lesley Joseph – Dorian Green in Birds of a Feather – will star in ‘naughtiest comedy musical in town’ Hot Flush at Lancaster Grand Theatre on Thursday, March 20. She tells the LEP what’s in store
Q: What appealed you about starring in the touring production of Hot Flush!?
A: I’ve done it twice before, and I just couldn’t resist doing it again. It has gone down so well with audiences. It’s the only show I’ve ever done where on the first night we overran by 15 minutes because there were so many laughs. Of course, that could have just been me overplaying it! It’s a hybrid show – it’s got music, drama, stand-up and revue. But the main thing is that it’s very, very funny.
Q: Why do you think audiences respond so well to this show?
A: It strikes a chord because it’s about menopausal women, and a lot of women identify with that. The Vagina Monologues started a trend for bringing in an audience who might not have been to the theatre before and Hot Flush! is merely continuing that.
Q: What do you think the show offers to an audience?
A: Its sense of humour is very near the knuckle and that really appeals. One of the characters has a moment with a Rampant Rabbit and you don’t get much more near the knuckle than that! It’s part of a genre of theatre that connects with hormonal housewives and hen parties. They are people who want to leave their troubles behind and come out for a real laugh.
Q: You play Myra in Hot Flush! Can you describe her to us?
A: Myra is middle-aged and frustrated. Her husband has gone off with a bimbo, and so, like a lot of women her age, she’s trying to find a new life for herself. She’s wisecracking, but also vulnerable. You have to let the audience see different layers to a character. Myra is in this gang of four women who are going through everything together. It’s not a facile show – it’s aimed at making people laugh and think at the same time.
Q: Hot Flush! is a musical comedy – how did you find the musical part of Hot Flush!?
A: I’ve loved it. I may not be the greatest singer in the world, but I can sell a song. I’ve previously starred in The Boyfriend and Thoroughly Modern Millie, so I know my way round a musical. I also job shared the role of Miss Hannigan with Paul O’Grady for two and a half years in a production of Annie. It was brilliant to dip in and out of it. Sometimes I get very possessive about a role, and I was far happier that a man was playing my part than a woman on that occasion. I knew I couldn’t compete with Paul, but it was great as we had very different interpretations.
Q: Which part of the show do you enjoy most?
A: There’s a section in the middle which feels almost like stand-up. I talk to the audience and pick on someone in the front row. I would never want to be a straight stand-up, but I love doing it within the parameters of the show. Hot Flush! ticks all the boxes for me. It gives me my stand-up and my musical fix for the year.
Q: You’ve recently returned to our TV screens on ITV1’s Dorian in Birds of a Feather, which is probably your best known role. Did you have any doubts about reviving it?
A: There will always be people who say, “For God’s sake, why did you bring it back?”
You’ll always have lovers and haters. But you can’t spend your life worrying about what other people think.
Q: How would you describe Dorian, the man-eating neighbour in Birds of a Feather?
A: She’s a comic creation born with high heels and long nails. Laurence [Marks] and Maurice [Gran] based her on someone they knew who used to go and put petrol in her car wearing the white mink coat. She used to get a nice young man to do it for her, and then she would disappear with him for the afternoon. The high heels gave her that distinctive trot, and the nails meant that everyone else had to do everything for her. She had a very vacuous life, but there was still a huge vulnerability about Dorian. I think that’s why people related to her.
Q: Dorian is an identifiable human being, isn’t she?
A: Definitely. It would have been very, very easy to play her as a cliche. She’s glamorous and loves power dressing. She’s got big hair and short skirts. She’s a very iconic TV character and I’m really proud of her. It would have been very simple to come on, get some corking laughs and go off again. But we never did that. We wanted to make Dorian a more rounded character.
Q: Do you feel you have been typecast as Dorian?
A: I suppose to an extent I have been, but I don’t mind at all because she’s opened so many doors for me.
Q: In real life, are you more like like Dorian or Myra?
A: I’m not like either. I haven’t got any thing in common with them – apart from my age!
Q: Finally, will men feel excluded if they come to see Hot Flush!?
A: Not at all. There is a very funny moment where Myra goes speed-dating. One actor plays all the men, and he ends up wearing a leather pouch and a mask. At that point, the audience goes berserk, and the roof comes off the theatre.
That sums up the evening. People might be snobby about Hot Flush! But it’s great entertainment, and it sends audiences out with a smile on their faces. They’ve left their troubles behind and had a wonderful night out. It’s a “let your hair down” show, and above all, it’s laugh out loud funny.