Published: 01/03/2016 14:09 - Updated: 01/03/2016 14:15

Hairspray heavyweight Edna tempts Tony back on the road

Tony Maudseley as Edna in 'Hairspray'.
Tony Maudseley as Edna in 'Hairspray'.

TONY Maudsley admits he is not a fan of touring.

Fortunately, while it remains the bread and butter of most in the acting profession, Maudsley has managed to avoid the grind of life on the road thanks to a career that includes a high profile role as hotpants wearing hair stylist Kenneth in ITV comedy Benidorm.

So he had to be persuaded to take on the role of Enda Turnblad, the larger than life mother of plucky heroine Tracy in ’60s set musical Hairspray.

A shy agoraphobic too scared to leave the house, Edna has her own challenges to face just as daughter Tracy takes on racially segregated dance show The Corny Collins Show to ensure fairness for all.

"You give up so much when you’re touring and the idea of doing that again just didn’t appeal to me," Maudsley said.

"But I’m so glad I said yes because I’m having the best time ever. It’s such a treat to play someone like Edna that I’d be kicking myself now if I said no."

First played by America’s best known cross-dressing actor Divine in director John Waters’ 1988 original film, the tradition of Edna being played by a man has continued with the hit musical version with stars such as Michael Ball and Phil Jupitus stepping into Edna’s slippers on stage and John Travolta doing the same in the 2007 big screen version.

Although Maudsley owns up to being a "largeish gent", Edna still has a good 10 stone on him, which means he has to play the part swathed in a oversized fat suit.

"I’ve got to learn the steps, then learn them all over again with the fat suit on. Then on top of that you’ve got heels and wigs – it’s quite a hot affair," the Merseysider laughed.

"People say all the Ednas lose weight - not this one! Even the fat suit’s getting tight! It’s all these fish and chips I’m eating on tour. I’m telling people it’s a character thing: ‘I have got to eat to maintain the character!’"

Edna may be a big lady, but she also has a big heart, something that the Hairspray audience is quick to respond to.

"The audience have a lot of love for Edna, and that just plays to my ego," Maudsley said.

"The whole story’s full of heart. It’s about celebrating individuality and tolerance. This show is a great platform to bring kids to start a conversation about tolerance and accepting and celebrating individuality rather than shying away from it.

"It’s a big pile of bubblegum, but the themes within that are fantastic themes. They get a few lessons in life and a few history lessons too: the TV show in the musical is based on a real TV show where black kids weren’t allowed to appear."

He may be a man playing a woman for comic effect, but Maudsley is very careful to avoid anyone thinking of Edna as a panto dame figure.

"You don’t want people constantly laughing at the fact you are a man in a woman’s dress. You want them to starting believing as soon as they can that you are a woman," he said.

"And they kind of do. There’s a moment where I kiss Peter Duncan’s character (Edna’s husband Wilbur) and instead of them laughing they go ‘awww’. That’s when you know you’ve won them over."

Such is his affection for Edna that Maudsley already counts her as one of his career highlights.

Hairspray marks a rare return to the stage by a performer whose career has predominantly been on television and film and includes working with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton on Sleepy Hollow and playing Robbie Coltrane’s giant half-brother in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

"I love the idea of something being shot on camera and always being there and I love all the little nuances you can do on camera," he said.

"I’m often asked if there are similarities between Kenneth and Edna. They are both big characters, but they are big in different ways. Kenneth has a confidence that goes through the roof where Edna, although she is a big character, is quite a shy retiring wallflower to begin with. "The only similarity that I can see is that they are both lionesses in their way. They are both very protective of the people around them."

Tony Maudsley stars as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, from Monday February 29 to Saturday March 5.

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