” ' FEATURE LIST
On stage is a lonely grand-piano. In the wings Victoria Wood is waiting to step into a spotlight.
Before she does, her taped introductory music dies away. It‘s a briefbreezy burst of mighty Wurlitzer-style organ playing. the music of Blackpool. ice-cream and fish suppers.
The ambiance is end of the pier. but tonight the venue is the Ipswich G au mont. and Victoria Wood is four dates into a month long concert trek around Britain.
An hour earlier in her dressing room she astuter applies her make-up. mixing her eyeshadow in colours — creamy cornet yellow. sticky rock pink - that match her stage clothes hung on the wall.
The jackets and trousers are baggy in a modernish way. but look as though they have come from theatrical costumiers rather than exclusive west London boutiques.
Plump women are inextricably a part ofour popular nostalgic images ofpre-Costa del Sol summer holidays. Because there is no comedian or celebrity comparable to Victoria Wood. people invariably place her beside the sea. They find her rougishly funny like a Beryl Cook painting come to life.
‘sick to death‘
‘I use the organ music partly because I like it, it makes me feel jolly before I go on. and hope it gives a nice atmosphere to the not very preposessing buildings I play in.
‘People think I live by the seaside. but I don‘t really. Ilive about 10 miles up the estuary that turns into Morecambe Bay.
‘1 used to live near Morecambe Park. but we moved to a little village. Jolly isn‘t the word for being beside the seaside — it‘s just boring.‘ But doesn‘t she love all that stuff about Kiss Me Quick hats. donkey rides and sand castles?
‘I sort ofdo.‘ she says. ‘but Morecambe is a very depressing version of that. People used to be very interested that I lived there. it was in all the papers. so they still think I do. But Iget very bored with it.‘ At the moment what Victoria Wood does is sit at the piano to perform songs that are comic apart from one or two that are a bit self-consciously about love.
She tells jokes and has her own television series. She writes all her own music and material herself. She agrees that this makes her almost unique among comedy stars.
‘I write everything myself, that‘s why I‘m such a wreck.‘ she laughs. ‘I prefer to do it all, because I think it makes you more original.
‘Ifsomebody was writing for me. they would very likely be writing for other people and I wouldn‘t like that. It just means that I have a smaller output than most people. It takes me six months to write a television series, during which time everybody else can be running about doing lots of other jobs. but I can‘t do that.‘ So the Victoria Wood on stage is a more true expression of herselfthan is the case with other performers?
llS SEEN ON STAGE
avid Housham‘s very own end of the pier show with BAFTA award winning comic Victoria Wood who plays Edinburgh‘s King‘s Theatre on 13 April.
‘Yes. Everything you say expresses some sort ofopinion. on however trivial a level. whereas if you did use other writers your act would be whatever they could think of to make jokes about. It wouldn‘t be so homogenous. shall we say. or some such word.
‘It can be very hard to find subjects to write about because it ail comes out of your own brain. Sometimes I get really sick to death of the sound of my own thoughts.
‘I often think I‘ve run out ofthings to make jokes about. but then something pops into your head. usually when you‘re thinking about something else.‘ Wandering lost backstage prior to our dressing room rendezvous I could hear some crashing boogie woogie piano playing coming from the stage. I imagined it could be her roadie. but was suprised to glimpse the evening‘s star intently hammering the keyboard. I
Before audiences discovered the wickedly funny lady of her television shows. Victoria Wood was the rather shy girl who sang throw away topical ditties for programmes like That's Life. and Start the Week.
The fact that she still retains some straightforward songs in her TV shows and concert acts suggests that music is more important to her than that.
‘The audiences get mainly comedy. but they also get a couple of sensitive songs (‘sensitive‘ makes her giggle) at the piano while I get my breath back.
‘The songs are important in the construction ofthe show and people like them. There are different ways to get laughs. One is with ajoke. You get a different sort oflaugh if you put a joke in a song. It‘s part of the rhythm — there is something about rhymes which makes people laugh.
‘I used to knock out a lot of topical songs but I‘ve got more critical. It never used to take beyond a couple ofhours and now it‘s a couple ofdays
on a song. long hardworking days. and they come out much better.
‘()n stage I play the basic minimum piano because I‘m concentrating on singing and putting the song across to the audience. I find it hard to sing sitting down. my arms are squashed against my chest. there is no way I can play as well as I actually do in private.‘
We continue to search for people to compare her with. I mention Richard Stillgoe and she almost gets upset. She says she likes Billy Connolly and Joan Rivers. but has never been ‘crazy‘ about funny writers like P G Wodehouse.
Her last television series Victoria Wood as seen on Television made for BBC 2 and recently repeated on BBC 1 . has taken her to a new peak of popularity and recognition. having won her two prestigious BAFTA awards in competition with the likes of Ronnie Barker.
The series was remarkable for its consistent high quality. its savagely accurate parodies of television conventions and characters. from ( ‘mssmads to continuity . announcers. ’
It featured a strong and unselfish cast of top actors and actresses like (‘elia lmrie. Julic Walters and Denis Lawson and was notable for the unflattering lengths Victoria went to for sketches such as the one in which she was a lard-covered teenage channel swimmer.
‘I think that‘s why they gave me the award. for my ability to look constantly unselfconscious. I‘m quite happy to do that. it never crosses my mind not to. it’sjust a sketch. Julie and the others are the same — the worse they look the better they like it.‘
This is very much part of the attitude that leads Victoria (‘I‘m 32 and a bit. . . a half‘) to describe what she does as ‘just a job‘.
She says: ‘It has taken me a long time to get it together. It‘s a very hardjob. tellingjokes. I‘m very pleased to go on tour. people buy
tickets. it‘s great. lcan‘t get used to it really.‘ Is it a career? ‘Yes. oh yes. It‘s what I had in mind all the time... It‘s a question of how long you can I' stay popular. which you have no control over.
‘I‘m very cautious. A lot ofpeople have struggled to stay popular and not managed it. When the ticket sales start dropping I shall bow out.‘
Victoria is married to a zany magician. whose stage name is The Great Suprendo. He‘s a fairly successful figure at the slowly sinking end of traditional show business.
It‘s a mostly badly paid. touring world of husband and wife novelty, acts. magicians. cabaret singers and dancers. It‘s a world of holiday camps and cruises. where a really
plum job is to be down the bill on Les
Dawson‘s panto or (‘anon and Ball‘s summer residency at a big seaside theatre.
“unbroken tradition‘ Although professionally she has escaped that. it‘s a world to which - Victoria has a strong sentimental attachment. ‘I feel a great bond with anybody who travels from place to place and is still on the stage. It‘s an? unbroken tradition. There isn‘t in really any difference for me walking on stage. except that I do a two hour act instead ofjust twelve minutes .'
; before somebody else.
"I‘he standard ofvaricty now is pretty low. but once you‘rein it . . . I have just got a lot ofrespect for anybody who‘s a pro. who does their best under sometimes difficult conditions.
‘Because of my husband being a magician and so on. I mix a lot in that world. and you know there are some really good reliable people struggling along. not at all recognised or famous.
‘Then you get some top of the bill person on the television who does the pantomime. They‘re really good on the first night. but by following Tuesday— forget it. they‘re not bothered. [hate that.‘
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