Jodie's back!

and ready to lift Midlands audiences out of lockdown gloom...   

Jodie Prenger is ‘chomping at the bit’ to get back to the Midlands this month, where she’ll be performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s Tell Me On A Sunday at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn. 

Jodie has fond recollections of her last visit to the Shropshire town in 2017, when she starred in another much-loved one-hander, Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine. 

Looking forward to her return visit, Jodie wonders whether ‘those lovely Shrewsbury audiences with their warm nature’ will be thinking that nobody wants to work with her, as she’s always on stage alone! But, as she points out, Tell Me On A Sunday is the perfect production with which to ease audiences back into auditoriums: “It’s a very Covid-safe environment for both the performer and the audience. You haven’t got a gigantic cast of 50 all singing at you. And as I’ve been double-jabbed, it’s a triple-safe performance!”

The past fifteen months have been challenging for all sectors, and certainly for  the arts. Has there ever been a moment when Jodie doubted her return to the stage?

“Never! It’s in my bones, and knowing that one day theatres would reopen has been the only thing that’s kept me going. It’s been a joy to be involved in other things along the way - writing projects that I’ve picked up on, which, when I’ve been constantly working, I’ve never had a chance to do before. That was fun and certainly the biggest positive of lockdown.”

Jodie believes that Tell Me On A Sunday is perfect for lifting audiences out of the lockdown gloom: “It’s a glorious coupling of two great masters and contains some of the best numbers in musical theatre. You’ve got Take That Look Off Your Face and Tell Me On A Sunday, and there are lots of other unexpected songs in there. One of my favourites is Capped Teeth And Caesar Salad, where she’s walking around the ‘lanes’. But I do love Tell Me On A Sunday. It’s such an iconic number and one of those songs that you really have to get stuck into.”  

The show tells the story of Emma, a young girl from London who travels to the States in pursuit of love. Romantic adventures in Manhattan, New York and Hollywood ensue, as does the exchange of letters and phone calls home to the UK. 

Like Emma, Jodie herself once moved to the States: “I spent time away from home working for Disney in America when I was very young, so I can relate to having space away from your family - the letter writing, the responses and the telephone calls home. It was in the days before social media, and you couldn’t connect with someone in an instant like you can now. Everything was done through letters, which was very romantic and very beautiful. I think Emma is very brave, and what you have here is the sumptuous music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the beautiful lyrics of Don Black bringing this story to life. Emma fought through it all, and that’s what we’ve all done in this pandemic. We’ve been as brave as we can and fought through what we can.”

Jodie is no stranger to the role of Emma, having portrayed her in a 2016 UK touring production. So what can audiences expect this time round?

“It’s almost kind of shifted a decade. It was set in the 1970s before, and now we’re moving into the ’80s. It’s lovely revisiting a piece where you find lots of new parts to the show. It’s stood the test of time, and you keep discovering new things with it as an actor.”

Jodie has certainly come a long way since she first appeared on our TV screens, in BBC TV talent contest I’d Do Anything, back in 2008. Her subsequent performance as Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s West End production of Oliver! earned her great critical acclaim. Her versatility as a performer has since been highlighted by the roles she’s played: Calamity Jane; Lady of the Lake in Monty Python’s Spamalot; Miss Hannigan in Annie; Helen in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey and Dolly in One Man Two Guvnors.  
So, with roles spanning comedy, drama and musical theatre, is there one particular genre she prefers?
“Don’t get me wrong, we all love to laugh, but I get such a thrill doing the Lloyd Webber & Black songs. It’s such a joy. But variety is the spice of life and keeps me on my toes.”

With the exception of Tell Me On A Sunday, Andrew Lloyd Webber productions are notably absent from Jodie’s CV, but his music has certainly impacted on her: “Evita was one of the first songs I ever sang, at a paid gig in a working men’s club in Manchester. I said to the audience, ‘Does anyone like songs from the musicals’, to which they gave a resounding ‘No!’. I carried on regardless and sang Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. I think that kind of attitude is what’s kept me going in this business!”

With 13 years of fame behind her, what does Jodie now know that she wishes she’d known in those early days playing Nancy?
“Always make sure you stretch your capezios before a quick change! They’re dancer tights with no give! You have to spend about half an hour stretching them before you put them on. Ask any performer and I’m sure they’ll say the same. I think I lost about seven pounds trying to put them on in a quick change!”

A collaboration with friend Neil Hurst - the writer behind a cheeky version of Cinderella  which showed at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea - is next on the cards for Jodie. The new venture will showcase her talent as a writer. And we’re reliably informed that there are numerous other theatre projects in the pipeline too, although she isn’t as yet able to discuss them. Whatever they may be, though, you can be sure she’ll approach them with the exact same level of energy and enthusiasm that has seen her become one of the UK’s most popular stage performers.  

Interview by Patsy Moss