Amanda Muggleton is a star of stage and screen, most well known in the UK for playing Chrissie Latham in the hit Australian soap opera ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’.  After leaving the soap in 1983 she embarked on a long and successful stage career, she has performed the role of ‘Shirley Valentine’ over 1000 times and has most recently starred as ‘Velma Von Tussle’ in an Arena tour of ‘Hairspray.’

Now, Amanda brings her hit one-woman show, ‘The Book Club’ to the UK for the first time.  We caught up with Amanda during rehearsals at the Kings Head Theatre.

How does it feel to be back in London and performing?

It’s fabulous! My Dad is here, and he’s been out to Australia to see me perform many times, but it’s a long journey.  So he will get to see me perform here, along with a lot of friends and family who have never seen me on stage before, I think they’re in for a bit of shock!

Will you draw strength from having them in the audience?

I hope they can sit back, relax and enjoy the show and not be worried about putting me off.  I think if I were in that situation I’d be worried I was distracting the person performing, so hopefully they won’t feel like that.

You’ve performed ‘The Book Club’ many times, most recently touring Australia, what first attracted you to it?

Well, I was not attracted to it, it was attracted to me. I’d done so many one-woman shows, and I wasn’t sure about doing another, because I really do find it quite lonely, but I seem to have become the Queen of one-woman shows in Australia.

Roger Hall who wrote the play, saw me do  Shirley Valentine, and he loved it so much that, as a writer, he thought ‘I wonder if I can write a really clever one-woman show,’ so he wrote ‘The Book Club’ and sent it to my agent.  It’s very different to Shirley (Valentine) in that ‘Deborah Martin,’ my character in ‘The Book Club,’ is middle class while Shirley was working class. They are both great roles to play, for different reasons, and when we first did it in 1999 it was a big hit, I think book clubs back then had just started and it interested people.

So when you ask what attracted me, I really had to be convinced to do it.

Are you pleased they convinced you?

Yes absolutely, because it has had a wonderful life and I do like to make people laugh.  It’s a very fast-paced romp which I hope people don’t think is too light-hearted, but it has changed a hell of a lot over the years.  Roger Hall gave me license to change it as I wished, so it’s been amazing to see it change over the years.

This is the first time you’ve done ‘The Book Club’ in the UK, have you changed anything for a UK audience?

Yes, we’ve changed the books up, and we’ve added another character who makes it very funny, it’s someone who doesn’t speak very good English, and we get some comedy from her coming to the book club.  And we’ve had to change things like politicians names, a train name, and names of places. All that’s had to change because we’ve set it in England,  it’s not set in Australia anymore, so the audience had to be able to recognise the names.

It is a one-woman show, but you play all the characters, how do you keep them all separate in your head?

I wake up in the night speaking in Welsh and Swiss accents! No, It’s a real mind-bender, they all need to have different quirks or accents or physicality’s,  and I play men as well as women, I also play a dog and a baby.  I play all the women in the book club, and they are the most difficult parts.

Do you have a favourite character?

Yes, Meredith.

Why’s that?

(Laughing) I’m not telling you, you’ll have to come and see the show! I will tell you she’s a monster; she’s that person that thinks she knows more than everyone else.

In Australia, you’ve just done the Hairspray Arena tour, which is very different in size to this, isn’t it?

I’m supposed to be doing it right now! They open on the 14th so I should be in rehearsal! We only do 5 or 6 shows and play to over 3000 people a night.  This week they are in Adelaide, we know our roles, but then we have a two-week rehearsal with 1000 kids.  It’s a wonderful springboard for young performers to be in a big professional production, they learn the discipline of performing and rehearse right along with us. The last time I did it,  I cried on the last night because I saw all the stars in those little eyes, and I thought how many of you are going to end up doing this as a career.

You give private acting lessons, how rewarding is that?

 I love teaching because really you’re teaching yourself, and I think it’s really good to analyse how it is I get to the point where I can play a role, and by passing on knowledge you give back. I love coaching them and seeing them grow; I love after just a few weeks of teaching them they’re being daring and trying different things.

What’s next for Amanda Muggleton?

I love doing TV work and would like to do to some more, I’ve just filmed a very small part in ‘Hollyoakes’, they are such a lovely cast I had an absolute ball.  So I filmed that in Liverpool, then I was in Birmingham and Glasgow for a ‘Prisoner’  convention which was great fun.

When I get back to Australia, the first thing is ‘Hairspray’ in Perth, and I love performing in Perth because that’s where Shirley Valentine started. At one point they wouldn’t let me stop performing ‘Shirley Valentine’ and ‘The Book Club’ there, I’ve done six and four seasons respectively.

Then, John Misto has written me a play, it’s called ‘Lip Service’ and it’s about Helena Rubinstein, she was one of the first makeup queens.  It’s a great play about her and her gay bodyguard, and the makeup wars that happened in the Forties and Fifties, back when they realised they could make a fortune out of women. Helena Rubinstein was the first person to bring out a lipstick; she had seen a bullet case, and it inspired her, that’s why it’s called ‘Lip Service’, that will be in 2017, and I’m really excited about it.

What would you want to say to people thinking about coming to see ‘The Book Club?

Come and see it! And don’t be put off by the title, I wanted to call it ‘The Book Club, or, Read Between the Wines’ because all the women drink wine and spill the beans about their husbands, lovers and children. So come and forget your woes and have a laugh with ‘Muggers’.

‘The Book Club’ is at the Kings Head Theatre from 11th October to 5th November and tickets are available here.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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