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Man, it’s hard being a woman says Hairspray and Benidorm star Tony Maudsley

The cast of Hairspray, at the Ipswich Regent from Monday. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

The cast of Hairspray, at the Ipswich Regent from Monday. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Martin Plasek Photography

Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad - aka Benidorm star Tony Maudsley - talks man boobs, the trouble with high heels and why the musical is the perfect way to raise important issues with your kids.

Actor Tony Maudsley, playing Edna TurnbladActor Tony Maudsley, playing Edna Turnblad

It’s hard work being a woman confesses Maudsley, adding he’s got nothing but respect for everything they put themselves though every day. Especially the high heels...

“Us guys, we get up in the morning, get a shower and off we go. They shave their legs, shave their armpits, they have to put make-up on, do their hair. Then, after all that, they put themselves through this terrible pain of walking in these ridiculously high heel shoes. I wonder why they put themselves through that.”

The Benidorm star is playing Edna Turnblad in the new UK tour of hit musical Hairspray, which arrives at the Ipswich Regent this Monday for a six-day run.

Based on John Waters’ 1988 movie, starring Divine and Ricki Lake, it’s set in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad is a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. When she dances her way onto national TV, she becomes a local star and is soon using her new-found fame to fight for equality. If things go her way, she may even bag heart-throb Link Larkin along the way.

Tony Maudsley as Edna Turnblad and Peter Duncan as Wilbur Turnblad. Photo: Ellie KurttzTony Maudsley as Edna Turnblad and Peter Duncan as Wilbur Turnblad. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Edna, Tracy’s mum, is the role people tend to remember; partly because she’s always played by a man. Maudsley says that’s the first big challenge for whoever’s playing her. You want the audience to stop thinking of you as a man as soon as you possibly can and see you as this troubled woman who’s madly in love with this husband of hers.

“You want them to come on that journey with you. So far I think we’re convincing them, even though I’m sort of 20 stone and 6ft 4in; which doesn’t seem to be a problem for the audience,” he roars with laughter.

The transformation takes about 20 minutes. Luckily he has a very nice lady called Jen who helps with the stockings, the high heels, the eyelashes, three wig changes...

“I’d be absolutely useless with a make-up brush in my hand. Aside from that I have to wear a fat suit. Even though I’m a big boy, my own man boobs aren’t quite enough to fill Edna’s ample dresses,” Maudsley laughs.

Freya Sutton, reprising her role as Tracy Turnblad. Photo: Ellie KurttzFreya Sutton, reprising her role as Tracy Turnblad. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

“It’s quite a process, one I couldn’t manage on my own without Jen. We’ve got to know each other really well. I treat her now and again with chocolate to keep her happy while she’s painting my face.”

This isn’t the first time Maudsley, who plays Kenneth du Beke in the hit ITV sit-com Benidorm, has donned a dress.

“About four years ago there was an episode where they went on a stag night and, for whatever reason, they decided to dress Kenneth and Donald both as Rita Hayworth. So I spent a couple of weeks running around Benidorm in a very long silk dress, a very high pair of high heels and a long red wig.”

Preparing to play Edna, he says female friends and family had more warning than advice.

“They said ‘your lower back’s going to hurt, the back of your legs are going to hurt’ which is kinda true. We’re not made to walk in shoes with heels that high. Men certainly aren’t used to that. Women have got used to it over the years but it’s painful. You have to walk a bit like a duck which I haven’t quite mastered. Edna’s a big woman and, luckily for me, it’s the first time in her life she’s ventured into anything more than a flat heel so I don’t think it matters that I walk quite strange.”

Maudsley loves the on-stage relationship between him and Peter Duncan, who plays Edna’s husband Wilbur.

“I do this brilliant duet - (You’re) Timeless to Me - with Peter and it’s a step away from the rest of the show. The rest is quite 1960s, bubblegum pop. This duet is a step back to vaudeville; it’s a number the older members of the audience particularly appreciate. It’s these two ageing people who are learning to appreciate what they’ve got. Their bodies are starting to let them down but they still have this love for each other.”

The audience love it too.

“Peter comes up to my belly button as it is. Once I put the green high heels on he comes up to about my knee,” Maudsley laughs.

“When we come on stage, there’s a moment in one of our songs when he stands behind me. I used to wonder ‘why are the audience giggling so much’. Then one of the producers showed a photograph of him stood behind me. It’s just the most funny set-up, this tiny man standing next to this image of a woman who, with the heels and beehive wig on, must be 7ft tall.”

Hairspray opened to rave reviews on Broadway in 2002, winning eight Tony Awards. It then opened in London in 2007, winning four Laurence Olivier Awards. The show has since been a success in South Africa, Japan, South Korea, China and Dubai. It even returned to the big screen, starring John Travolta as Edna.

Maudsley says the great thing about the show is it’s not only a great night out full of fantastic performances and music, but it deals with important themes.

“We cover racism, size-ism, issues that even though the show is set in 1962 are still really current today. I think it’s a really good show to bring your kids to. It also acts as a platform to start a conversation; to start teaching your kids about tolerance, acceptance and to celebrate who they are, what they have.

“We live in such a changing society; we’re not the England, the Great Britain we were 30 years ago. We need to start learning to love that. Hairspray makes you question your own tolerance and acceptance of others.

“Waters wrote this thing in the 1980s, it was based on his experiences of growing up in Baltimore amid the riots. Sadly only two years ago there were more Baltimore race riots so it’s all still very current. There’s still work to do. It’s a fun show but educational as well I think.”

The cast - which also features Claire Sweeney as Velma Von Tussle and Freya Sutton reprising the role of Tracy - had notched up 72 shows in just two months when I caught up with Maudsley. Each and every one so far had ended with a standing ovation.

“We can’t ask for more than that. We’re very happy. You will be whipped into a frenzy by the end of it. You can’t help yourself. It’s so cleverly written, the whole show crescendos from start to finish. You just come on board this train and by the end you want to get out of your seat, to dance and sing. I defy anyone not to come out of there with a smile on their face.”


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