Monday, 23 June 2014

20th Century Boy

SUE Jenkins is a busy lady. Not only is she an actress with an impressive CV of roles on both stage and screen but she is also a director, mum of three, and co-founder with her daughter Emily of The Actors' Lab Ltd, a Drama Academy in Manchester. But it is her starring role in a touring production of 20th Century Boy, a musical based on the life and times of T Rex frontman and glam rock legend Marc Bolan, which is currently focusing her attention.
It is mid way through its national tour, and is making a scheduled stop at the New Wimbledon Theatre next week.
We chat as she is tucking into a home made chicken and leek pie during a short and well-earned break between shows.
"I really miss home cooked food when I'm away on tour so I hope you don't mind if I eat while we chat?" she asks warmly.
"I love homemade food like this so if it's offered I take it - and this is delicious," she adds laughing.
Food aside Sue is on terrific form and if she's tired from all the travelling and six days a week on stage you would never guess from her ebullience.
She is perhaps best known as Jackie, the put upon wife of layabout and anti hero Jimmy Corkhill in Channel 4's former flagship soap, Brookside - or Brookie to its fans.
She starred in the show for 10 years from 1991 to 2001 before moving on to roles in Coronation Street and Emmerdale as well in as various theatre productions.
But she had a prolific career as a classical actress before Brookside and it's clear as we chat she is loving every minute of being back on the stage.
"It's hard work," she says. "But I love it. It's a fantastic show which has been wonderfully written, has great choreography and I'm very proud to be part of it.
"We have an amazing cast and crew and the audiences so far have been wonderful and very warm in their response to it."
The musical charts the life of Marc and his band T Rex, exposing some of the myths and taking the audience on a journey through his fascinating life before his untimely death in 1977.
Sue plays Marc's mum Phyllis who helps his son Rolan find out more about his famous dad.
"It's all told through the eyes of Marc's son Rolan," explains Sue. "Marc was killed when Rolan was two and he and his mum went and live in America.
"The show begins when as a young man, he comes back to England, meets Phyllis for only the second time in his life, and asks for help to find out more about his dad."
And she says it has been a journey of discovery as much for her as for the audience.
"There was so much I didn't know before I took on the part," she adds. "For exampled when Marc died his money disappeared and so David Bowie paid for Rolan to be educated.
"Even die hard fans have come up to us afterwards saying there were elements of his life they had no idea about.
"We tell it warts and all but it's a beautiful and very emotional story. He always had a close bond with his mum so there are some incredibly poignant moments," she adds. "There is a lot of depth to it."
Not surprisingly Marc's music is a key aspect and the show features 25 of his hits.
"They are played and sung live - they are not shoehorned in but integral to the story," says Sue.
"Everyone gets to sing - even me!" she chuckles. "I sing twice in fact - once on my own and then again with three others.
"It's been great to hear all those gorgeous songs again though. You forget what an extraordinarily talented man he was - he sold more records than Elvis! He was a poet and so ahead of his time and this really shows it.
"Warren who plays Marc has the most incredible voice and presence on stage and he totally transforms himself into the character, it's quite uncanny and so much more than just an impression.
"Even those who don't know Marc's music will love it," she adds. "There's so much energy you can't help but enjoy it!"
And she admits it's a bit of a departure from Jackie Corkhill.
"I'm so synonymous for playing a particular character that a lot of people don't know I had an acting life before it!" she says.
"I always wanted to be an actress - right from when I was a little girl and when I started, I worked solidly in theatre for the first 12 years of my career so it's lovely to be back on stage and playing such an interesting character."
And she says she is particularly pleased the show is coming to Wimbledon - not only because it's in the same week as the tennis championship but also because of Marc's connections with the area.
Although Marc was raised in Stoke Newington, he moved with his family to Summerstown, Wimbledon where he grew up, and went to Hillcroft School in Beechcroft Road, Tooting, now known as Ernest Bevin College.
"It's where he grew up so it's right we should be here and in such a beautiful theatre," says Sue. "I think there will be a real buzz about the place especially with the tennis on.
"It's going to be very exciting!"

20th Century Boy is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, from Monday, June 23 until Saturday, June 28. Tickets from £12.90. Call the box office on 0844 871 7646 or visit

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