Lesley Joseph, actress and broadcaster, chats with Kevin Cooper about performing in panto, Birds Of A Feather, her appearance on Celebrity Come Dine With Me and her forthcoming appearance as Miss Hannigan in Annie at The Royal Concert Hall Nottingham.

Lesley Joseph is an English actress and broadcaster, best known for playing Dorien Green in the popular sitcom Birds Of A Feather from 1989 to 1998 and then on its return since 2014. She is currently touring the country as Miss Hannigan in a new production of Annie; a role she has played previously.

She is also a committed pantomime enthusiast and is regularly found treading the boards at various theatres during the panto season. She has also appeared in two episodes of Celebrity Come Dine With Me, the first going down in history as the funniest ever episode of the show.

Whilst currently performing Annie in Liverpool, she took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.


Ms Joseph how are you?

I’m fine thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s ok.

And just how is life treating Lesley Joseph today?

It’s good. I am in Liverpool at the moment where we are currently performing Annie. We are playing to really full houses so yes, it’s all good, it’s all very good.

You are bringing the show down here to Nottingham on the 21st March. Are you looking forward to being back in Nottingham?

I like Nottingham quite a lot Kevin. We are playing the Concert Hall this time and not the Theatre Royal. I have always liked Nottingham and in fact I was there back in 2014/15 when I played the Wicked Queen in the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I have always found it to be a good theatre-going town as well. The people of Nottingham like their theatre which I like and I have always had a really good time in Nottingham.

Am I to take it that you like the whole ethos of panto?

I do and I always have because in a way you can put together all of the things that you love. There is drama, magic, comedy, bright lights, dancing, music, songs, panto just combines everything that I personally love doing within the theatre. To me it is all about the surprise of theatre. I have always been very fond of panto, and I love being able to speak to an audience as well. It is a great English tradition, which I believe has been born out of both the variety and music hall days. In my opinion panto is based upon the whole idea of the old time musical artists being able to speak to the audience and having the audience reacting to that.

Panto is just one of those things that has grown up in England, the English people love it. It’s a great tradition at Christmas; you can shout out. Although in Japan they do shout out but differently. When you have an actor on the Japanese stage whenever they are coming up to saying one of their big speeches people from the gallery will shout out ‘oh I love this speech’ or ‘you are my favourite actor’ and they are very used to that. That to me is far odder than the audience shouting out here in the UK at panto time. At least here in the UK it is slightly more controlled as to when the audience shout out and answer. But there you go, it’s an English thing; we love it and long may we love it.

So I take it that you are in total agreement with audience participation?

Within pantomime it is certainly accepted and that is what the audience know that they are going to be there for and they love it. However as I have said earlier, we very much control when they do it.

Coming back to Annie you will be playing the part of Miss Hannigan which if my memory serves me correctly is a part that you have previously played in the West End.

Yes I did, you are absolutely correct Kevin. That was around seventeen years ago now and it is a part that I love to play. I love doing it just for the song Easy Street really. It is a fantastic show and this is a really good new production. Without giving too much away it is much different to how the show has been produced before. What I will say is that this production is much grittier. It is set in the Great Depression of 1933 and it is a really good, fresh production and people are loving it.

I have just been reading the biog for Miss Hannigan; disillusioned, hates children and loves alcoholic beverages. Quite a good role to play I would have thought.

(Laughter) yes it is Kevin, it’s a fun role to play. I keep trying to make Miss Hannigan likeable in some way whilst remaining vulnerable. I don’t know if I succeed or not but yes, it is a great part actually. It is fun, I get to act, sing and dance, and more to the point I don’t carry the whole of the show on my shoulders. We have got three fantastic Annie’s and just how they do it I simply don’t know. It is really a fun part for me to do. I think that those parts are usually the more fun to play aren’t they, the ones where people love to hate you.

The original Broadway production opened back in 1977. What do you think it is that makes Annie so popular?

That’s easy Kevin, it is a great show. It is a very well-crafted show plus it has fantastic songs including Tomorrow which to me is an anthem of hope. It starts by saying that tomorrow is always a day away and by the time that you get to the end tomorrow is only a day away. It is simply a great anthem for hope. Another fantastic song is Easy Street. The whole show is full of great musical comedy songs. Plus it is a show that you can take the whole family to see, your children and your grandparents; it is a beautifully structured classic musical. I can completely understand why it has been so successful.

You also have some rather big shoes to fill as Dorothy Laudon won the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in 1977 for her performance as Miss Hannigan in Annie.

I didn’t know that Kevin although in a way I wouldn’t call it a lead actress part really because there is a lot of the second act where Miss Hannagan is not on stage. So I do find that quite interesting, and no I didn’t know that.

Dare I ask you about, what shall we call it, Lamb Gate perhaps (laughter). Have you recovered from that?

(Laughter) you are talking about my appearance on Celebrity Come Dine With Me aren’t you and my lamb which I have to admit was a total disaster. As you can imagine I lost the first time that I was on the show but then they did The Best Of The Worst which I actually managed to win. I cooked an amazing meal of roast duck, steamed cauliflower, and my house was turned into the Titanic and as I said, I won. So in answer to your question yes I have recovered and yes I later went on to win the show (laughter).

I can’t speak to you without mentioning Birds Of A Feather. When you first received the biog for the character of Dorien Green, what were your first thoughts?

To be honest with you the character had been written with me in mind so I knew exactly what it was going to be with the heels, the nails, together with the Jewish Princess thing so it was completely expected.

So just how much of Dorien Green is Lesley Joseph?

Nothing at all. I mean other than the fact that I can get into the dresses and wear the heels it is simply an acting part. It’s really not me. But again, like with Miss Hannagan I really do hope that I have made Dorien vulnerable, liked or even loved. I certainly think that we have done that especially with the last series for ITV which was a good one. We are all really pleased with how it has been received. It has been a great thing to do which has now spanned over a twenty-five year period.

What next for Lesley Joseph?

After Annie I am going to treat myself to a very long holiday. However I would really love to do a play at The National Theatre; Chekhov or something like that. That is what I would like to do.

On that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Thanks very much Kevin. You make sure that you come along and see Annie, it’s a good show. Bye.