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A Taste of Honey star Jodie Prenger 'still can't believe' Nancy casting

PUBLISHED: 16:01 29 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:16 29 October 2019

Jodie Prenger stars as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Marc Brenner

Jodie Prenger stars as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Marc Brenner

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Louisa Baldwin spoke to a Taste of Honey star Jodie Prenger about playing Nancy and achieving her dream of opening an animal sanctuary as the show comes to Norwich.

A Taste of Honey Credit: National TheatreA Taste of Honey Credit: National Theatre

Jodie Prenger first found fame in 2008 as the winner of reality show I'd Do Anything, which saw Andrew Lloyd Webber searching for an unknown lead to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver!

Her larger-than-life personality and even bigger voice that won over the hearts of the public over a decade ago has kept her at the top of her game ever since and she now plays gritty single mum Helen in the National Theatre's revival of Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play A Taste of Honey.

Set in post-war Britain, the show follows Helen as she runs off with a car salesman Peter, whilst her daughter Jo starts a relationship with Jimmie, who promises to marry her before heading to sea and the play tackles issues such as race, sexuality and class.

A Taste of Honey was also made into a 1961 film, starring Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham in the title roles and this new production, with Jodie at the helm, features live music for the first time and has already been confirmed for a West End run at Trafalgar Studios following the UK tour.

Ahead of the show coming to Norwich Theatre Royal from November 12 to 16, Jodie Prenger discusses her working class routes, stepping into the shoes of Nancy and why she often find herself facetiming farm animals.

Have you been to Norwich before?

Jodie Prenger stars in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Supplied by Norwich Theatre RoyalJodie Prenger stars in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal

I just love it here and have come for Calamity Jane, Fat Friends and also Shirley Valentine so you haven't got rid of me.

The most important thing in theatre is the audiences and they are always brilliant in the area and you've always got somewhere to sit and have a coffee and read a book in Norwich.

What is a Taste of Honey About and where is it set?

The show is set in post-war Britain and revolves around my character Helen and her daughter Jo who is played by Gemma Dobson and before we were cast I presented her with an award at The Stage Debut Awards so couldn't believe it when we met on the first day of rehearsals.

We both get on like a house on fire and you can see our chemistry on stage.

The show revolves around their day-to-day lives and follows Jo's relationship with a sailor called Jimmie who is black, which was the most taboo thing at the time, and she becomes pregnant whilst he is away at sea and moves in with student Geoffrey who is gay.

Joe Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Credit: Marc BrennerJoe Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Credit: Marc Brenner

READ MORE: All you need to know ahead of Norwich Film Festival 2019

The show has been produced by with The National Theatre - what was the process like?

I was blown away by the process as it was so collaborative and creative and it was what Shelagh Delaney originally wanted with the addition of music.

There is a live jazz band which give an almost cinematic underscore to the scenes and took it to a new level and so many people at the stage door said it added suspense.

The show pulls at your heartstrings and it is great to see the audience react to the rawness of the piece, with makes you laugh from the gut but also make you sad too.

You play Helen what is she like and are you similar to the character?

Jodie Prenger as Helen and Tom Varey as Peter in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc BrennerJodie Prenger as Helen and Tom Varey as Peter in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc Brenner

It is scary how much of Helen was already there.

If you read the original reviews she was called a monster but she was a women of circumstance and yes she wasn't a stay at home, bake you a cake mum, but we are all flawed and no one is perfect.

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Do you think the class system still exists in Britain?

My grandma was from Manchester and they immigrated from Ireland and Shelagh's history is there too so it didn't feel unfamiliar.

My nan and grandad grafted so hard and it was such a tough time and they ended up gathering as much as they could and moved to Blackpool and opened a bed and breakfast.

Durone Stokes as Jimmie and Gemma Dobson as Jo in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc BrennerDurone Stokes as Jimmie and Gemma Dobson as Jo in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc Brenner

My nan was constantly fighting and striving and would work from half five in the morning until eight at night and then would put on her glad rags and was beautiful, the spitting image of Elsie Tanner, to have a good time - there was yin and yang even in the darkest times.

You shot to fame on I'd Do Anything on the BBC which cast the role of Nancy in Oliver! on the West End - what was it like to get your big break?

I had tried so much to get into the West End and the tyres on my Dad's car were worn out from driving me to auditions.

Rejection is absolutely frightful and the last audition before the show was for Hairspray and the lovely David Grindrod, who is a god in casting, said "not this time sweetheart" and I cried for a week.

Ironically, he was the one auditioning at Nancy so it shows you should never give up and it is worth that extra push as it changed my life.

Gemma Dobson as Jo, Tom Varey as Peter and Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc BrennerGemma Dobson as Jo, Tom Varey as Peter and Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey Credit: Marc Brenner

What was it like making your West End debut?

I was petrified and my mouth was bone dry and I don't think any rollercoaster will match the emotion I went through on the night - it was an exciting and scary ride.

I still can't believe the public picked up the phone and voted for me and it has made me feel pressure throughout my career as I don't want to let people down.

READ MORE: Schoolgirl wins place in prestigious West End troupe

You turned 40 this year, how does it feel looking back on your career and is this still anything you want to achieve?

It is great to look back on all those nice experiences and I've also been able to make my dream come true of opening an animal sanctuary and I have rescued cows and ex-battery chickens which I keep on my farm in Lancashire.

When we were rehearsing in London, Gemma who plays my daughter found a dog abandoned in a car park and now we have that too.

When I'm on tour I facetime my fella and also my animals as I miss them.

I never take things for granted and I never know what is around the corner, but I would love to do Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf of Gypsy.

Why should people get tickets to see the show and how does it feel that it is transferring to the West End?

If you're not feeding your cows or chickens, it is not often you get to see a show transferring to the West End on your doorstep and we are thrilled as we have worked so hard.

It is 60 years since a Taste of Honey has been on the West End so it is testament to the piece which is still just as relevant now.

Tickets to A Taste of Honey cost from £10 to £33 and you can purchase them at theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk, by phone on 01603 630000 or in person at the box office.

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