THE multi-talented Denise Van Outen is adding a new string to her bow with her latest stage venture.
A musical theatre star, radio and TV presenter, author and designer, she can now add playwright to her accomplishments.
Starring in Some Girl I Used to Know, the one-woman play with music that she has co-written, during a break in rehearsals she explains where the inspiration for the show came from.
“I absolutely loved doing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s (one-woman musical) Tell Me on a Sunday – well, I did once I got past being petrified of being on stage on my own,” she laughs.
“I loved the way that the predominately female audience related to the character.
“I remember my mum, my auntie and their friends loving the film Shirley Valentine the same way – a whole generation of women understood Shirley and related to her.
“I hope that Some Girl I Used to Know will have that same kind of relevance.
“I’ve always been a girl’s girl and when we all get together my girlfriends and I often find ourselves reminiscing about the past and our first loves.
“That’s where the idea came from; I wondered what would happen if someone got back in touch with their first love through social media.
“I wanted to explore the idea of a woman who thinks she can have it all, because there’s always a price to pay.
“And although my character is the opposite of Shirley Valentine in many ways, that sense of wanting something different is the common denominator.”
And so Stephanie Canworth was born.
A woman to envy, on the surface she has it all; a successful career, a doting husband and an established role as a media darling.
But then a Facebook ‘poke’ from her first love propels her down memory lane. Suddenly there are question marks hovering over every aspect of her life. Should she follow her heart, or count her blessings and kick her nagging doubts firmly into the long grass with a Louboutin-shod foot?
“It is a bit like the film Sliding Doors in that respect and you wonder which one will she go through,” nods Denise, who admits that the big ‘4-0’ beckons this year.
“I suppose it’s about redefining what you want and revaluating what you have.
“It’s a show about feelings.
“You can’t take away feelings; you can’t just turn them off.”
As for her two right hand men on the project – collectively they form a pretty heavyweight triumvirate – Denise admits that she is thrilled to have enlisted multi-talented Terry Ronald (songwriter, vocalist, producer and the award-winning author of the novel Becoming Nancy) as her co-writer, with Steve Anderson (songwriter, producer and collaborator for singers including Britney Spears, Westlife, Atomic Kitten, Kylie and Susan Boyle to name but a few) joining as musical supervisor.
“We all worked together on Rent: Remixed in 2007 and we’ve stayed friends.
“I’ve never put pen to paper this way before, but when I told Terry about my idea he loved it. Suddenly we found ourselves meeting up in a little coffee shop and working on a script.
“Because the story was so firmly in my head the writing just flowed.”
A play with a musical soundtrack rooted in the 80s and 90s, don’t, however, expect to hear Denise belting out Stock Aitken and Waterman’s back catalogue.
“It’s not a musical, but I do think that good pop, lyrically, is really well written.
“I wrote this long list of personal favourites and sent it to Steve. I have very eclectic taste and there were some that were so cheesy that he just laughed at them, but we’ve ended up with some brilliant songs that really work with our story.”
And from the sound of things some songs have been dramatically re-imagined. I mean, Sonia’s You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You as a ballad?
“Yes, really,” she giggles. “I knew it could work, but Steve needed persuading. He said he’d give it a go and when he rang me the next day he had to admit that he was pleased with what he’d done. We’ve put our own twist on songs that people will know and that they will hopefully like.”
Admitting that initially the project caused her terrible butterflies, a try-out run last year at Leicester’s Curve Theatre reassured Denise that fretfulness was quite unnecessary. The feedback was terrific and a tour was immediately put together.
“I did the Strictly arena tour last year, but that was dancing in the day and partying – I won’t lie, it was carnage – at night. But even though I have been offered tours before this will be my first. Taking a show that I am so passionate about around the country is very exciting for me.”
Dates on the tour which Denise is especially chuffed about are Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
“I am especially looking forward to Birmingham and Wolverhampton as lots of my really close girlfriends live in the area and so I’ll be able to see them. Some of them have never seen me in a show before – well it’s ridiculously expensive to travel to London to go to the theatre, isn’t it? – but with me being at their local theatres they can come and see me and the show.”
Although she jokingly puts her ability to juggle numerous commitments down to ‘lots of planning and lack of sleep’, Denise admits that she is very careful about managing her schedule in order to achieve a healthy balance.
As for down time, hard as it is to imagine her sporting a onesie and a big pair of furry slippers, Denise insists that she and her toddler daughter Betsy love nothing more than a cosy Sunday snuggle on the couch in front of a Disney movie.
“Cooking a big roast, meal planning, sorting out school uniform – that’s down time for me these days and I love it,” she grins.
And so, with a milestone birthday looming and with the benefit of experience, what sage advice does Miss Van Outen have when it comes to personal fulfilment?
Her response is quick, and sounds like it might be personally tried and tested.
“Follow your instincts and listen to yourself.
“We’re all guilty of listening too much to other people, so be fearless. Oh, and laugh whenever you can, throw in some jazz hands and have a few cocktails!”
Amen to that, sister.
Some Girl I Used to Know can be seen at Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre (0844 871 3011) from February 10-12 and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 01902 429212) from February 20-22
For more details visit www.SomeGirlIUsedToKnow.com
Pic David Venni