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Lucy Benjamin On ... Hairspray

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Lucy Benjamin is perhaps best known for playing Lisa in Eastenders. She goes on the road in the new tour of Hairspray which arrives at the Lowry next month. Lucy's theatre credits include The Pretender Agenda (West End) the UK tour of Framed and last year’s sell out production of Peter Pan at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. We caught up with her to find out more about Hairspray.

You have performed on Celebrity X Factor. How nervous/excited are you about taking on this role?
The good thing about playing this character in the show is that as much as I sing in it, it’s a real character part. So I’m going to act my way through it as well. I think that X Factor was probably the most scary thing I’ve done. I mean I will have nerves with this, first night nerves, but I think it will be tinged in a lot of excitement really, and as I said it’s a real character to play, I’m just really looking forward to it.

Velma is a fading flower. What do you like about her?
Oh, she’s a real baddie, she’s a cow, she’s really camp, she’s vile and racist, she’s all of the things you aren’t allowed to be and you can just completely get your teeth into it and have a really good go. I’ve never played anything like it before, so it’s a first for me. She is a fun character to play, you can just get away with so much I think with her being just so revolting and it kind of makes me laugh when characters are that vile, because it is so naughty, it’s great to be able to get up on stage and get away with it.

She's also strong?
She’s driven and she’s a powerful woman, I think in that day it was rare for women to own their own stations and produce their own shows, so she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s ambitious on her daughters behalf, she’s a pushy mother some would say, I think you have to admire her as well really, she’s got big balls.

Were you nervous about auditioning for the part?
Yeah! I was really nervous about auditioning for the part. Just because I really wanted to do it, and also I’m not used to singing when you go for an audition there being a panel of ten people and one of them being one of the American Associate Directors that has come over to watch and make sure it’s all being kept in the right shape. So the audition process was quite scary and I’m sure there are more people on audition panels than ever before, I think because it meant so much to me, I really want to do it and when you really want to do a part it means more to you, you do get nervous.

Had you seen the show or film and what did like about Hairspray?

I saw the show in the West End with Michael Ball when it was in town, I just grinned and smiled and tapped my foot all the way through. I just thought it was one of the most feel good shows I’ve ever seen and really family entertainment as well, kids will just love it. I watched the film in preparation for being seen for Velma and loved the film, but didn’t like John Travolta as much as much as I did Michael Ball, I have to say that. But now I hear repeat of the film constantly in my house with my five year old playing it over and over and over again. The songs are just going round on a loop now, my little girl is just loving it and hearing the songs millions of time to still think they are still brilliant, they just stand up for themselves, they’re fabulous really. I just think it’s a really great musical with a message. I’m delighted to be part of it.

Is there anyone who has inspired you in the role of Velma?

Yes. Well I took little bits, you kind of nick little bits I suppose or you’re interested in how other people play it, I watched Michelle Pfeiffer, and was keen and nick little bit from her and I listened to the original soundtrack cast recording and took certain elements of what she had done, because you have to make it your own obviously, but kind of like little facets that appeal to me, things that I can take from a performance. I’m glad I haven’t seen the show on stage since I have been cast as Velma because I’d find that a little bit disconcerting because I don’t want to nick how someone is doing it. I’ve got my own vision of how I want to play it. But it was helpful hints for the audition process.

This piece has been filmed twice and this is the second UK tour. Why does the show touch a nerve with audiences?
As an audience member myself, I think it’s such a great score and it’s a good story. The whole conflict between the black and whites, people like to watch how it used to be, and sit and go wow. I think the score is brilliant and the script stood up to it, it did it justice, that whole historical thing, and as an audience member I found it riveting on every level to be honest. People can still relate to it today, racism still goes on, however not to that scale. It’s fascinating to look back and think wow was it really like that, so it’s a good lesson for kids to come and watch it, I’ll be intrigued for my daughter Bessie to see what she thinks and if she has any questions that are raised about it after having seen it properly on stage, whether it triggers anything with her.

How do you think you will cope with touring, with a young family?
It’s not going to be easy, but they have great grandparents, so I will have one young baby with me with my mum, the five year old in Essex whilst at school with the other grandma and hubby, and at weekend’s hubby with bring my eldest child to see me. It will be difficult and heart wrenching at times when she has to go back on a Sunday but it’s not forever. Also I think it’s good for my daughter to see that mummy goes to work and what mummy does and it will be good for them to get used to it. I think it will hurt me more than anyone else, but that what mums have to do, going to work, you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing and there’s plenty of people who will take your space.

Have you worked with anyone else in the cast before?
No, I’ve always really wanted to work with Mark (Benton) and our paths have never professionally crossed and that’s one I can tick off my box as he is so brilliant and I’m so pleased to be working with him. They’re all new to me, I don’t think any of the others have worked with each other.

What is your favourite song in the show?
I love "You Can’t Stop The Beat." I love it, I love it, just the feeling it gives you when you hear it, plus I love my number "Miss Baltimore Crabs", I’m really pleased that’s mine.

Why should people come and see the show?
There are new cast members, I know there are some existing cast that have done the tour and actually been in the west end like Sandra, but I think it’s a new lease of life, new blood but still with the same production values that its always had in town. I think it’s important for people who haven’t already seen it on the road, to come the see the stuff that hits the West End, no standards drop when stuff goes on tour, everything is as excellent as it is in town, as you would expect to see in the West End. And I know that as I went to Legally Blonde not so long ago and I was so impressed with the standard, so people should get to come and see stuff that has been in the West End.

Lucy Benjamin was speaking to Kathryn Phillips.

Hairspray is at the Lowry from 11 - 23 February, 2013.


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