Lyn Paul talks to Frankly My Dear UK about taking on the role of Mrs Johnstone in BLOOD BROTHERS for the final time in her hometown of Manchester
As BLOOD BROTHERS finishes its five-month tour at Manchester’s Palace Theatre this week, it’s a bittersweet performance for actress and singer Lyn Paul. After 21 years in the production, she finally says goodbye to the role of Mrs Johnstone, with her final performance in her hometown.
“It’s not only the last two weeks of the tour but it’s also the last two weeks that I’ll be doing Mrs J” explains Paul in an exclusive interview with Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK.
“I told Bill Kenwright that I didn’t want to play the part anymore because I felt I was too old. I am so grateful that he has let me do it for as long as I’ve done it but I think it’s beyond the realms of imagination now that me at 69 is having a baby – or twins even. You really have to have a great imagination for that one! I felt the role should go to a younger person. I think someone in their late 30s / early 40s should be doing this role.”
Paul has played the seminal role of Mrs Johnstone for 21 years, following her first performance back in 1997 in London’s West End, a moment that stands out as one of the highlights of her career.
“The biggest highlight was the very first night I did BLOOD BROTHERS. Even when I was with the New Seekers, which was a tremendous time for me and luckily it gave me a name and a career, I was very young when that was happening so when Bill Kenwright gave me a brand new career when I was 46 in acting, something I’d wanted to do since I was a teenager, that was amazing. Walking on that stage for that very first show was like, oh my god, I couldn’t believe I was that lucky.”
Since then, Paul has returned to the role on numerous occasions and also starred as Mrs Johnstone in the final West End performances at the Phoenix Theatre in 2012. Hailed as ‘the definitive Mrs Johnstone’ by Manchester Evening News, it’s a part she certainly knows well.
“I’ve been doing it for 21 years so it’s quite a long time. I’m pretty used to the part now” explains Paul.
“It’s so well written and so well directed that, in actual fact, it stands up on its own. You just walk back in and suddenly you are Mrs J. It’s a wonderful role and very, very easy to step back into”.
Originally written as a school play by Willy Russell, BLOOD BROTHERS tells the captivating and moving story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret. Despite playing the role for over two decades, Paul admits the emotion of the piece still gets to her and is one of the reasons why she believes BLOOD BROTHERS remains so popular with audiences across the country.
“It’s very easy when you’ve got a child to relate to what is happening. On stage, I’ve only got to think of my son and I’m immediately in floods of tears. I think it’s a role for anyone who’s been a mother, its soul searching” explains Paul.
“Most people can relate something in it. There are mothers out there who can’t have children, there are mothers out there that can’t feed their children, there are mothers out there whose husband walk out on them and leave them and there are mothers out there with children in prison. It covers such a great area that the majority of people who are sitting in an audience can relate to something. Even the class divide. Plus, it’s not really like a proper musical because there is no clapping that goes on after every song. It’s deliberately directed that we crack on and just keep going, we don’t allow the audience to clap because at the very end, they are aware of everything that has gone on and they want to applaud, they want to stand up and they want to say we enjoyed that.”
Paul is certainly no stranger to performing. The actress/singer first rose to fame in the early 1970s as a member of the New Seekers. She was the featured vocalist on their 1972 Eurovision Song Contest entry, BEG, STEAL OR BORROW, in which they came second and lead vocalist on the 1974 number-one hit YOU WON’T FIND ANOTHER FOOL LIKE ME. She has also starred in the UK tour of CABARET in 2013 as Fraulein Schneider, in Boy George’s musical TABOO and in FOOTLOOSE – THE MUSICAL. Yet while Paul may be giving up her role in BLOOD BROTHERS, she still keen to continue working.
“I would give anything to play the mother in GYPSY. That’s the role I’ve wanted for donkey’s years. Oh my god, I would just die for that role. I love it. But I would also like to go into straight acting. I would like to stop singing, not stop singing socially, but I don’t want to have to earn a living by singing so much. When you get older, the voice drops and it’s not always so easy to put these songs over. You can emotionally but some of the notes don’t quite get there sometimes.”
“I’d also like to do more television. I mean I was lucky, I did Emmerdale, Doctors and Holby City. And who wouldn’t want to do Coronation Street? There is not a fool in the world who wouldn’t want to do it. I’m in a long line of actresses that would like to go in that but just anything really. I’ve no intentions of giving up and luckily in our business, you can carry on for as long as you want so I just want to keep working. As long as I’m working, I’m happy.”
While Paul admits her final performance will certainly be emotional, she’s glad she gets to say goodbye to the role and the production in her hometown of Manchester.
“Manchester will always be my home. I left Manchester when I was 19 and I’m 69 now. Once a northerner, always a northerner. My husband and I actually considered moving back up there but because of his work, it wasn’t possible. Manchester never leaves you and its always home. Because I’m leaving the company, it’s great that my last two weeks are in my hometown” explains Paul.
“I’m absolutely ready to move on and it’s a lovely way to close being in my hometown. I couldn’t have wished for more. It will emotional because it’s been such a big part of my life. I mean 21 years is a big part of anybody’s life and I always came back to it. It’s been a massive part of my life so of course, knowing that I won’t come back to it, is a bit touching.”
BLOOD BROTHERS runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre from 15 – 26 May 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.