Embarking on her first ever tour and making her début as a playwright, Denise Van Outen, star of Strictly Come Dancing and Chicago talks about new challenges, the value of good girlfriends and how slipping into a onesie is her idea of heaven.
IT’S a good job Denise Van Outen is so un-starry and genuinely friendly in the flesh. It would be easy to dislike her out of sheer jealousy. Naturally pretty, with a figure you’d cheerfully do a deal with the Devil for, she is also dazzlingly talented. A triple threat musical theatre star, radio and TV presenter, author and designer, she can now add playwright to her accomplishments. She is now starring in Some Girl I Used to Know, a one-woman play with music that she has co-written, and 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 and my auntie 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 so Stephanie Canworth was born. 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.
“It is a bit like the film Sliding Doors in that respect and you wonder which one will she go through,” says Denise, who despite her youthful looks admits that the big 4-0 beckons this year.
“I suppose it’s about redefining what you want and re-evaluating what you have. It’s a show about feelings. You can’t take away feelings, you can’t just turn them off.”
The project was co-written with songwriter and producer Terry Ronald, who also wrote the novel Becoming Nancy, and musical supervisor is Steve Anderson who has previously worked with Britney Spears, Westlife and Kylie, to name but a few.
“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.”
This is a play with a musical soundtrack rooted in the Eighties and Nineties, but don’t expect to hear Denise belting out Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s back catalogue — the show includes music by Soft Cell and Culture Club, among others, that she chose herself: “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.”
After a trial run at Leicester’s Curve Theatre last year she received great feedback on the show 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.”
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 such a glamorous creature sporting a onesie and a big pair of furry slippers, but Denise insists that she and her 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 says.
And Denise credits her own girlfriends as providing her with fantastic back-up. “They are part of my family,” she says. “I wouldn’t have got through life without them.”
* Some Girl I Used to Know is at the Wycombe Swan from Thursday, February 27 to Saturday, March 1. Box office 01494 512000 or www.wycombeswan.co.uk