Ipswich: Maureen Nolan talks Blood Brothers and missing sister Bernie

Blood Brothers starring Maureen Nolan

Blood Brothers starring Maureen Nolan - Credit: Archant

Playing Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers has become a family tradition for the Nolan Sisters. When Maureen reprises the role, sister Bernie is sure to be in her thoughts.

Blood Brothers. Photo Keith Pattison.

Blood Brothers. Photo Keith Pattison. - Credit: Archant

“She was first and paved the way for Linda, Denise, then me,” says the singer and actress, whose visit to Ipswich with the rest of the clan was cancelled when Bernie’s breast cancer returned, spreading to her brain, bones, lungs and liver.

“Bernie died last July... it was horrible because I think more than any of us she had the most fun on our 2009 reunion tour. She more than anybody was pushing for another, she really tried but it just couldn’t be.”

There’s been talk of touring again as a tribute to her, even having her on a screen singing with them.

“It’s still a bit soon... I don’t know if we’d be capable of doing it, but never say never.”

Maureen played Mrs Johnstone in the West Run of the musical - the story of twins who, separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks only to meet again with fateful consequences - are reunited with tragic consequences, for two years.

Featuring songs including Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True Bill Kenwright’s multi-award winning show, christened the standing ovation musical, recently surpassed 10,000 performances in London’s West End, one of only three musicals to do so.

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Seeing the show 18 times before actually appearing in it - “I’m the official stalker,” Maureen laughs - she’s been in the touring version on and off for years.

She wishes Bernie could’ve seen her during her latest run.

“She came when I was in London. Last year we were somewhere close to her but again she was wasn’t well enough at the last minute, but her daughters came.”

Earning themselves a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for each playing the same leading role in the West End, Maureen says there’s no competitiveness about who was better.

“Before I was acting I used to go along and say ‘oh I didn’t like that bit, you shouldn’t do that’. There was a night (where they got their own back), thankfully they don’t do that to me now.

“I went along and thought ‘ooh, if I ever I played the role I would do that’ and I find myself even now thinking ‘I loved when Linda or Bernie or Denise did that so I’ll do that’. Other parts you see slightly different so you try a different approach.”

When the sisters do get together they’re often still up at six in the morning laughing their heads off at all the stuff that goes wrong.

“We’ve all got different stories... we could write a book actually.”

Maureen is full of praise for the show, a real roller-coaster to coin a phrase.

“I think the secret is to get people to laugh out loud in the first half and in the second hopefully cry or my job’s not done... and it’s great music.”

Have your hankies at the ready when Blood Brothers runs at the Ipswich Regent to May 3. Read Natalie Sadler’s review online now.