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Brief Encounter With ... Fings Hannah-Jane Fox

Phil Wilmott's revival of Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, by Frank Norman and Lionel Bart, opened at the Union Theatre on 13 May (previews from 10 May) where it will run through to 4 June 2011. The play with music centres on the loveable rogue Fred, who is released from prison to find that times have changed and he is not quite the king of the manor he once was.

Hannah-Jane Fox, who originated the role of Scaramouche in West End hit musical We Will Rock You, stars in the production as Lil, Fred's girlfriend. Whatsonstage.com caught up with Hannah to discuss Fings, her four-year stint at the Dominion Theatre, and what kinds of roles she hopes to take on next.

Can you tell me a bit about your character and the play as a whole?

I play Lil, she's Fred's sort of long-suffering girlfriend. Fred has just come out of prison to find that he's no longer the governor and that London has changed. It’s a piece about everyone’s response to Fred’s life changing, things moving on and changing and how individual characters cope with it. It is in a sense a knees up with gangsters and knives.

You're playing the role that launched Barbara Windsor's career?

Barbara Windsor didn’t actually play Lil, but she did sing a song called “Little Birds,” which is one of the songs that I sing in this version. It was certainly a massive time for her. It was the first time a lot of working class people had been seen on stage and where it sounded like that, as opposed to anyone pretending.

Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! is far better know, why do you think that is?

Well I suppose the story of Oliver! is a far more dramatic, with much more happening and is obviously a very well known story. Perhaps there’s more huge musical numbers - this is essentially a play. It was written as a play before he met up with people, including Lionel Bart, and they said "let’s put some music to the play". So it’s essentially a play with music, but I think you can certainly hear the beginning of some things that happen in Oliver!.

This is very a different role from We Will Rock You.

Yes, I did it for four years. I think I performed to over 3 million people. It was huge, but there’s certainly no rocking out in this. It’s using a completely different voice. I did the really sort of hardcore rock star every night in Rock You. I left and recorded by own album, and so I sang in a different voice again, which was my own voice, and now we’re back into musical theatre.

Do you see yourself playing more roles like this one?

I hope so. I’m really attracted to the fact that the piece is a play first and foremost. I’d certainly like to do more plays and I would really like to do some traditional musical theatre now, very much so. I’d be up to do Sondheim, it’s been a dream.

Any particular part from Sondheim's canon?

I’d love to do Sunday in the Park with George and maybe Into the Woods. It's a whole different thing to rock, I don’t think that anything will be as taxing as that vocally.

What sort of styles should we look forward to on your album?

I suppose there's some country influence, but then I also hope there’s the song writing lyrics like Sting. Some of it rocks out but its a bit more chilled out. Roger Taylor from Queen did three of the songs on my album.

The Union Theatre changes for every production that goes in. What is the space like for Fings?

It’s different, isn’t it? I see lots of things here and our set looks really big actually. I’m surprised, it looks quite spacious and I think it's really lovely. We are using the space long ways and as an audience I think you’ll feel very much participating in it. That you’ll feel very much amongst the action.

Have you found yourself slipping into a Cockney accent or using Cockney rhyming slang outside the rehearsal room?

I have to say we’re all getting into terribly bad habits. I’m getting more and more Cockney as the days go by. It rubs off, let’s put it that way. It’s liberating, but it rubs off.

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be opened at the Union Theatre on 13 May (previews from 10 May) where it will continues to 4 June 2011.


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