Lyn Paul, who made her name as part of 1970s pop band The New Seekers, returns to the stage tonight (Tuesday) as the iconic Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers which opens at Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre.
The Peterborough Telegraph caught up with Lyn ahead of the opening night.
Welcome back to Blood Brothers! It must be like greeting an old friend!
It certainly is! Oh my goodness, it’s two and a half years since I last did it, so yes, it is like greeting an old friend, absolutely – but terrifying at the same time!
Terrifying? You must know the part in your sleep now!
You know what, strangely enough, I was lying in bed the other night going through the opening song and I reached one part, but for the life of me couldn’t remember the rest of it, and I had to get up and go downstairs to get the script and go through it! At 4 o’clock in the morning, ridiculous! So it’s playing on my mind obviously (laughs)!
Once you start rehearsals, will you treat it as a new show, particularly as you’ll be with a new cast?
I will treat it like a new show. Obviously it’s easier because I do know what I’m doing and because it is so well directed. When I first started it was directed by Bill and also Bob Tomson, so all those notes I have I’ve still got written down and a lot of that will come back to me because I think the way they directed it is just second to none. I’m desperately looking forward to going back and bringing that with me.
You played the role of Mrs Johnstone from 1997 right up until 2000, then revived it in 2008 and then again in 2012 for the final two weeks of its West End run – fair to say it’s your ultimate role?
Oh absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt! Mrs J is just me. Everything that she’s going through I feel, the way Willy’s (Russell) written it is so easy to get over to an audience as it’s actually written as you would speak. Sometimes, when people write a script, you look at it and think, “well, that’s not how I would say it”. But this is so perfectly written and so easy, it just flows, and I just feel that Mrs J is me, so it makes it very easy to play.
No doubt a huge factor when accepting the role again for the 2016 tour?
Absolutely. And also, because of Bill (Kenwright). When I first played Mrs J, I was doing cabaret and he took me away from all that. I wrote to Bill and asked him if he would consider me for the role of Mrs J, he sent me a letter back by return post, and less than three weeks later I was waiting on the stage at the Phoenix Theatre (West End) to start rehearsals and I cannot tell you what it did to me. I’d never acted and I thought, “oh my God, I can’t do this!” But Bill showed so much faith in me that I will always go back. He’s only got to click his fingers and I’ll be straight in, no problem.
So it was a chance letter that changed your life?
Oh yes, absolutely. I didn’t know Bill although I knew Carl Wayne, who was the Narrator at that point, and he came to see me in a cabaret show. I was in down the road from the Phoenix Theatre and he told me “You know, you should go and audition for Mrs Johnstone”. I didn’t even know Blood Brothers, so I asked him about it and said, “I can’t, I don’t act”. But, he said I should give it a go. So I went back and discussed it with my mum and she said, “Oh Bill Kenwright, he’s a very nice man”. I said, “how do you know, you’ve never met him”, and she said, “well I’ve seen him interviewed and he’s a very nice man, write to him!” Typical Northern mum! So I did, I wrote and just said: “Would you consider seeing me for the role of Mrs J, I’m not Liverpudlian but I can get into the accent”, gave him all that, and I posted it off. Two days later I got a return letter saying, “don’t worry about the Liverpudlian accent love, we’ll sort that, you don’t need one, you’re a Northerner, and I’d love to see you”. And that was it. And from that moment on we became good friends.
While Blood Brothers is what you’re synonymous with, you also toured with Cabaret for Bill – how did you get involved with that?
I got an email from him which said he’d like to put me up for Fräulein Schneider, how would I feel about it? I wrote back and said I would love it. He sent me the script and the parts he wanted me to do, asked me to come into the office, I went in and went through the songs, went up to Bill’s office, we went through the scenes and that was that.
A lot of people will also know you as a member of the New Seekers and singing that well-known, world-famous song I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, but can you clear up my confusion over it – did you record it for Coca Cola or after the ad came out?
We recorded the advert first for Coca Cola and then everybody said: “Wow, that’s a fantastic song” although the five of us just looked at each other and said, “what?” (laughs) But everybody turned out to be right and we went into the studio and recorded the single and the rest is history.
Blood Brothers is a very moving show, have you come across any fans that have told you how much it has touched their lives and stayed with them?
I got a letter once from a woman who had a son who was in jail, and she said she sat watching it and it was the only time she’d ever seen anybody portray on stage a jail sequence that is exactly as it is. And she said she cried and cried. So if that’s one example, can you imagine how other people must relate to other parts of it. Everyone’s gone through highs and lows and a lot of what Mrs J’s gone through. And Mrs Lyons. And Mickey and Eddie.