Victoria Wood reveals how comedy, trams and chips made ‘love letter to the north’

Comedy favourite Victoria Wood has revealed how her bid to combine a love of singing, laughs and… chips into her new television musical proved to be a big undertaking. 

Chuck in a tram and a bunch of singing coal men for good measure and you’d wonder how it works. 

However That Day We Sang, starring Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball, premiered at Salford Quays this week to critical acclaim.

The BAFTA award-winning writer, comedienne and director launched her new film at the Quays on Monday night in a glamorous premiere which saw stars including Olivier award-winning Michael Ball descend on the cinema in the Lowry Outlet.

Due for transmission on BBC Two at Christmas, and expected to become one of the BBC’s biggest Christmas broadcasts, it tells the story of the story of Tubby (Ball) & Enid (Staunton), two lonely middle-aged Mancunians who grab a second chance at life, reconnected by the power of music.

That Day We Sang brings together everything I love: singing, dancing, comedy, love and chips. A musical set in ‘29 and ‘69 complete with tap dancing children, singing coal men and possibly a tram, was always going to be a big undertaking,” said Victoria.

“Imelda and Michael are my dream team, superb professionals at the top of their game. I’m hoping to deliver something that will be a real treat for the audience.”

Details of the plot are still under wraps until its TV debut next month, but Dinnerladies star Victoria spoke after the screening in Salford Quays of how the North and her love of musicals inspired the 90 minute drama.

“I just adore musicals. It just turned into as much of a musical as we could afford to do,” she said.

DREAM TEAM: From left: producer Paul Frith, Michael Ball, Victoria Wood and executive producer Hilary Bevan Jones (©BBC, with thanks)

Victoria revealed that the theatrical elements were not fully formed in the production’s initial planning, but the opportunity for the idea to grow into a musical was impossible to miss.

“Of course when you put it on the screen you do get the chance to just sort of expand. And I’m just very grateful really to get that chance because I love musicals.”

Victoria’s characters meet at a reunion of the Manchester Children’s Choir – the group of 250 working-class children who famously made the iconic Columbia recording of classical maestro Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds back in 1929.

Filmed across the north west in January, it also includes starring roles for a number of Manchester youngsters, with the Halle Childrens Choir acting as their 1920s’ counterparts.

“You have to pay respect to what’s actually happened and the places that they actually happened in,” said Victoria. 

“I wanted to pay homage to that time. I mean it was an amazing thing… in a recession in the 20s, Manchester had not only a world class orchestra but a free choir for children of ordinary elementary schools.”

She added that it would not be wrong to describe the production as ‘political with a very small ‘p’’, and she revealed she’d written and rewritten the TV production at least nine times before finalising the script.

ON-SCREEN MAGIC: One of Staunton’s most famous roles includes Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films DutchHPfan1992, with thanks)

The faltering romance of the Victoria’s two protagonists is interwoven with the story of Jimmy, a member of the choir whose love for singing transcends his difficult home life. 

As the story moves between Tubby and Jimmy, their stories collide, and they must somehow find each other.

Leading man Michael Ball, who takes the role of loveable but lonely insurance broker Tubby, was also at the premiere and said working alongside Victoria was a pleasure. 

“It was the biggest thrill, and spare your blushes, but I’m such a fan of Victoria’s. I know every sketch she’s ever written,” he said at the post-screening Q&A session. 

“It could have been anything and I’d have said yes, but to read it, to hear the music – it’s an absolute privilege to have been asked to contribute.”

“Musicals for television are rare,” said executive producer, Hilary Bevan Jones. “To make a musical with Victoria Wood, Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball is pure heaven. That Day We Sang is a beautiful universal love story, we will all be in floods of tears before the end.”

Victoria’s musical first premiered in 2011 as part of the Manchester International Festival and went on for a further run as the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Christmas production last year.

Top image courtesy of BBC, with thanks

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