Theatre Royal Interview

Brenda Edwards

The smash-hit musical comedy Hairspray is returning to Plymouth with a production guaranteed to have you dancing the night away! Starring Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle and Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad.

It’s Baltimore, 1962 where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV. Featuring the hit songs Welcome To The 60s, You Can’t Stop The Beat, The Nicest Kids In Town and many more, don’t miss this irresistibly feel-good show that will have you dancing the night away and smiling for days. Let your hair down and book now!

Ahead of coming to the Theatre Royal, Plymouth from 24th June - 3rd July, Brenda spoke about her role, getting back on the road and what she learned during lockdown.

For people who are new to Hairspray, how would you describe Motormouth Maybelle?

She’s larger than life, she’s got a big personality and big blonde hair, and she’s not scared to say what she thinks.

 

This is your third time touring with the show. What keeps you coming back?

I love the songs. It’s such a feel-good show from the minute - spoiler alert! - the curtain goes up and you’ve got Tracy Turnblad in bed singing Good Morning Baltimore. From that moment on the show takes everybody on a wonderful journey. Even though sone of the storylines are hard-hitting, they’re put across in a light-hearted way and there’s so much energy. It’s such an amazing show and I think that’s exactly what people need coming out of this year-and-a-bit that we’ve had. They need something to laugh about and there are so many laughs in Hairspray. There are things in it to make you laugh, things in it to make you cry, things in it to make you think… It’s a bit of something for everyone and for all ages as well. 

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Do you have anything in common with Maybelle?

I can relate to her big personality and I can relate to being someone who is open and says what they think. I also like to think I’m somebody who is always there for my friends and always there if somebody wants someone to talk to or just to listen. Motormouth has three children and I have two children myself, and the son is older than the daughter, as is Motormouth’s. She can relate to young people because she has a fresh outlook. Even though she has experience, she’s willing to listen and learn as well as give advice. The character is very suited to me and when I went in to audition I really wanted the role because it’s such a great one to play. She also cooks some mean soul food and I’m a fantastic soul food cook. 

 

You don’t seem like a wallflower! Are you naturally drawn to strong roles?

It’s nice to be cast as strong, independent females but I don’t know if I’m drawn to them or if people think of me when casting them. Mama Morton in Chicago was my first musical theatre role and nobody messes with her, which I love. Killer Queen in We Will Rock You - nobody messes with her either. It’s the same with Motormouth Maybelle. I’m a little pussycat, somebody who wears their heart on their sleeve and a very caring person. Some people might find my big voice a bit intimidating but honestly, I really am a pussycat. It’s funny when people come to the stage door and they say ‘Your voice is so big and you were so strong and powerful’, then there’s a little child there and I just melt. It’s lovely to be able to play strong characters on stage and I do bring elements of myself to them because I haven’t had theatrical training. I bring my life experiences to each role I play and I like to think I’m as truthful as possible.

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Does Hairspray feel even more timely now in terms of the themes of integration and discrimination?

Absolutely. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it in the first place because I thought it was good for educating myself as well as to educate other people. I’m very much a believer that we’re all the human race and it should not matter about colour. But I think it’s important to have these sort of stories to show how times have changed and how they used to be. It’s not just about colour, it’s about females in certain roles back in the day. The show is set in the 60s and you’ve not just got Motormouth, you’ve also get Velma, who are two very strong women. And of course you have Edna, who is also a strong character. It’s nice to see these three different characters from three different backgrounds kind of coming together at the end of the show and proving we can all live together as one. Coming out of lockdown now with everything that’s been going on over in America and over here in terms of racial inequalities, it’s a good show to make people think. Like I said, it’s got some hard-hitting storylines but it’s not about cramming anything down anyone’s throats. It’s more like: ‘Have a think. Does this apply to you? Search within yourself and see if you can do better.’ Hopefully that’s what people come out of a performance thinking as well as feeling a bit lighter. You hear them walking down the street afterwards singing You Can’t Stop The Beat. It’s amazing the effect the show has on audiences.

You came to fame on the second series of The X Factor in 2005 but was musical theatre always one of your ambitions?

It’s been a lovely accident. I grew up singing in the Pentecostal church so I’ve always sang in big venues. As I say, I’ve never had any training or singing lessons - I just open my mouth and it comes out - and I’m very grateful how things have turned out. Chicago was the first musical that came my way while I was still on X Factor and was asked to audition for it. Since then it’s been just lovely being on stage and as much as I hadn’t thought about it as a career I’m very glad I got that call to do Chicago. Performing is what I love doing, with singing being my first love without a doubt, and I don’t think there are a lot of people who can hand-on-heart say they’re doing exactly what they’re passionate about. I actually did want to go to performing arts school but my grandmother, who raised me, was very against it so I went to college and studied accounts instead. I had a very successful career with that but it’s nice that I’ve managed to come back round to what I really wanted to do all those years ago when I was 17 or 18 and leaving school. 

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Did you master any new skills during lockdown?

I’ve learned how to do DIY and put things together. I’ve got my own drills and drill bag, plus hammers, tools and nails. Then because there was a period at the beginning of the lockdown where you couldn’t get staples I started growing my own veg as well. So I’m doing it myself with house stuff and I’m doing it myself with vegetables too, just trying to be as healthy as I can. Currently I’ve got tomatoes, spinach, green and red peppers, kale, lettuce, carrots - you name it. 

What are you most looking forward to about live theatre returning?

Just seeing the audience’s responses. You can’t beat it. Likewise being on stage with the live band. I miss listening to live music myself but to be able to perform for people around the country and to have them come out and just forget themselves for a few hours is amazing. It’s so nice to be able to see people in the audience smiling but even if we can’t see their faces it will still be nice to hear a round of applause, to know that people are supporting you and backing the arts - because obviously the arts have been hit so badly. That’s the main thing I’m looking forward to: Getting back out there and helping people have a good time. We’re never going to forget what’s happened this past year. So many people, including myself, have been hit with the tragedy of losing loved ones. But that first night when the curtain goes up is going to be electrifying. I can’t wait for us all to get back on stage and bring some joy and love to everybody.

It’s a long tour. How do you keep yourself match fit?

The main thing is eating properly. The first year I did the tour I stayed in hotels because it seemed easier but you sometimes end up skipping meals. So the second year I rented apartments where I could prepare my own meals. I can’t do without my pots, my pans and my seasonings. They go everywhere with me on every tour. It’s about eating healthily to sustain yourself as well as making sure you get enough sleep.