Thursday, 13 August 2015

INTERVIEW Maureen Nolan

BY her own admission Maureen Nolan is the official stalker of the musical Blood Brothers. It’s her “favourite show”, she’s seen it 18 times and she says the story is “amazing and beautiful”.
So it’s fitting then that given her obvious enthusiasm for the show - which is utterly infectious - not to mention her musical and showbiz pedigree, she has realised her ambition to be in it.
The 61-year-old, who found worldwide fame with her sisters in the 1970s as The Nolans, plays Mrs Johnstone a mother of seven living on a council estate in Liverpool. Times are heard, her husband has left her in the lurch and she takes a job as a cleaner to a wealthy local couple to make ends meet.
When she finds out that she is expecting twins she decides, in a moment of desperation, to give one of them up for adoption to her boss’s wife.
The story tells their contrasting, captivating and moving stories from being separated at birth to their reunion by a twist of fate years later.
"It’s a truly amazing part and a fantastic show,” says Maureen as we chat shortly before the start of the tour which takes in the New Wimbledon Theatre between September 8 and 12.
“At its heart is a great story that anyone can relate to and within that there is comedy and drama, fabulous music and I get to sing great songs - what’s not to like!”
The show, written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell, has been running on and off for more than 25 years.
Featuring a memorable score with songs including A Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True, the show has won four awards for best musical in London, and seven Tony award nominations on Broadway.
This year is the 10th year Maureen has been part of it and she says she still loves it just as much as she did when she first played the role a decade ago.
“I did two years in the West End before we went on the tour and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she laughs.
"I'm still mad about it. It’s absolutely my favourite show and I love every second of it. It’s such a great story that really grabs you. That’s the secret of its success.
“It’s all about nature and nurture and how the boys grow up in different societies and different classes. They meet up when they are seven and become good friends. Eddie, my posh son leads a charmed life though he is lonely and envies his brother Mickey as he has lots of friends. However Mickey loses his job and his life goes downhill so it’s quite sad.
“It really tugs at your heart strings and I cry every night, but it’s also laugh out loud funny and magical - there's so much to it.
“I’ve done other shows like Footloose which was fun, and panto of course but nothing really compares to this part. It's my dream role.
“It keeps me coming back and we have such amazing audiences who have different reactions each time that it is such a joy to be part of.”
Maureen is also perhaps the perfect choice to play the mother of such a large family having come from one herself.
“I really relate to Mrs Johnstone,” she says. “I was born and grew up in a big family in a council estate in Dublin.
“I was one of seven children and money was tight so a similar situation to Mrs Johnstone. In fact I base my portrayal of her on my own mum who was feisty, funny and strong, and for whom life was all about her kids. Mrs Johnstone is the same.”
And it’s also a bit of a family affair in that Maureen is the fourth Nolan sister to get to play the part of Mrs Johnstone.
“I saw it 18 times and was obsessed by it but never had any idea I’d ever be in it,” she says.
“So it was a dream when I got the call to go in and audition.
“However I knew that I couldn’t be the only sister who didn’t get the part – that would have been a bit humiliating!”
Fortunately she did get it and has not looked back and says after a summer-long break she’s itching to get back onto the stage and on the road.
And she’s looking forward to coming to Wimbledon, a theatre she’s performed in before.
“Wimbledon is such a lovely theatre that I’m sure we will have fun there," she says.
"What’s great is that there is always someone in the audience who’s never been to the theatre before and so there is a responsibility to make sure they have a good time and love it enough to come back."
“I love the area,” she adds warmly. “It’s really close to my family so I’ll be spending time with them, particularly my neice, when I’m not on stage.
And despite the fact she has spent much of her life in showbiz, touring the globe and performing to huge crowds, Maureen says being away from family is still tough.
“It’s hard being on tour and I do miss my family,” she says. “My son is 26 and I’m about to get a third grandchild any day now so it’s tough but you get used to it. My husband is a tour manager so away a lot but we make it work.
“I’ve done it most of my life so it feels natural though if someone told me that I would be opening in the West End at 50 I would have laughed at them. It’s amazing when I look back and see how life has panned out.”
So what would Maureen have done had she not put entire generations "in the mood for dancing" by going into the family business?
“I wanted to be a PE teacher or a journalist,” she admits. “However my parents were in showbusiness and I was singing from the age of nine so I think we were destined to be part of it.”
And she shows no sign of wanting to retire or take it easy as after this leg of the tour finishes in November she’s straight over to Rotherham to do panto.
“I’m playing the fairy godmother so it’s a bit like chalk and cheese,” she laughs. “There will be no rest til May. But I love it.”

Blood Brothers is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre between Tuesday, September 8 and Saturday, September 12. Tickets from £10.25. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

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