Steve Pratt discovers why Lesley Joseph loves comedy on tour (and on TV), but is ready for birds of a more serious feather
LESLEY Joseph is telling me how much she loves one night stands. “You just rock into the town, do what you do, hopefully play to a fantastic crowd and don’t have to wait for reviews, then move on next day,” says the actress best known as Birds Of A Feather’s randy, raucous Dorien.
Far from offering an insight into her private life, Lesley Joseph is talking about Hot Flush! – not a play about a revolutionary new toilet system, but a comedy musical about four feisty menopausal women.
And in case you think I’m being rude, I’ll point out that she started it. “Funnily enough, I love one night stands as far as touring is concerned,”
she says near the start of the interview. Then realising her comment might be taken the wrong way, adds: “That’s very Dorien.”
Dorien, the character with whom she’s most readily identified, is back in the public eye thanks to the new series of the TV comedy Birds Of A Feather, which returned after a 15-year absence to a big audience of seven million.
Joseph is back as Dorien, Sharon and Tracy’s titillating friend, whose main hobby is men. ITV commissioned fresh episodes of the old BBC series following two successful tours with a stage version that reunited her with co-stars Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson.
“The tours were really, really successful. Because of that we knew there was still an appetite for the series and it made people laugh,” she says..
“I think ITV came to see the show in Richmond and it took the roof off with people laughing.
Literally, when we went to ITV and the meeting lasted 15 minutes, with them asking, ‘Can you deliver by January and make it prewatershed?’ I don’t think they’ve regretted it.”
Being a Bird again came easily. “Because we know each other so well it was a matter of slipping back into it,” she says. “I had to go on a bit of a diet and tone-up because of the clothes she wears.”
The tour of Hot Flush! fitted in nicely after Birds Of A Feather debuted on ITV. Sizes doesn’t matter. She’s happy to undertake what appears to be a gruelling 60-plus date tour including Darlington, Billingham, Durham, Sunderland and York.
“I’m not going to be touring for much longer, so this kills lots of birds with one stone – love of stand-up comedy, musicals, song and dance,” she says.
Hang on, that sounds as if she’s planning on retiring. Not at all, she emphasises. Besides, 12 weeks on the road won’t be a hardship because it’s “a cracking show”, she says.
“Everyone loves funny writing. This is hysterical.
I looked at the script and said yes straight away. I didn’t do the first two tours because, like with a lot of things, I wait until something has been on and proved itself – and then go in.
“We’ve adjusted it slightly to work around what I wanted to do. There’s more speaking to the audience, going into the audience and even sitting on someone’s lap.
“We opened in Lincoln and added ten to 15 minutes to the running time with laughs. I’ve never done a show that’s had that much hysteria before.”
HOT Flush! follows the feisty four – Joseph, Lori Haley Fox, Anne Smith and Ruth Keeling – who get together every Tuesday night at a local bar to offer moral support, cry on one another’s shoulders, and gossip and malign the men in their lives. All 15 males are played by Matt Slack.
It’s “quite near the knuckle”, there’s a hysterical song about speed-dating and a rubber mask and thong is mentioned, at which point I feel I should perhaps make my excuses and leave the subject.
“Matt and I have worked together many times in the past and we have an understanding of working with the audience. The fourth wall is sometimes broken by Matt and I. Everyone leaves the theatre having had a great laugh,” she says.
“It’s a bit like naughty seaside postcards.
Sometimes I look at myself and think, ‘You came into this business to be a serious actor doing Shakespeare and Chekhov, what are you doing?
But you can’t sit there and not laugh.”
She attributes the success of Hot Flush! to two things – it speaks to all women of a certain age and the piece is funny. Take a scene set in a supermarket. “I do this every single day of my life, I look for my telephone in my bag.
When you get to it, it stops ringing.
It happens to every single woman with a handbag and a telephone,” she says.
“Sometimes you put on a show and for some reason the chemistry works and it takes off. Most of the places we went to on the last tour begged us to go back.
“It’s not exclusively for women. Men will find laughs in it too. Matt tells it from a man’s perspective.”
SHE loves touring. “Sometimes you go to places that won’t get West End shows because they’re not big enough. When I first came into the business I always thought of myself as a strolling player. I do love that gypsy life, being in a travelling company when you are all in it together.
“If you’re doing week-long runs it’s slightly different because you set out your dressing room, but with one-nighters you don’t even have to unpack your bag.
“I always take a steamer with me for the dressing room. It keeps the air moist. You do have to be a bit careful, but I think after all these years, at the venerable old age I am, I have worked out how my body works.”
Next she wants to get serious. “After this whatever I do is going to be something quite serious, much as I love comedy and I love working with an audience. I’ve done serious plays like Humble Boy and Home.
What I’d like to wait for something that’s quite classical and serious,” she says. Directors take note.