Ask Imelda Staunton what appealed about her latest project That Day We Sang, and she doesn’t miss a beat.
“Victoria Wood sends you a script. The end,” says the actress, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in 2004’s Vera Drake.
As for her co-star Michael Ball: “I got sick of them begging, simple as that,” he says, laughing. “No, I’d do anything with Imelda. The time we did Sweeney [Todd, on stage] was an extraordinary time for me. I learnt more from her than I think anyone else,” he adds.
“And you seem to have forgotten it,” quips Staunton, 58, and the two start chuckling.
But like the Paddington star (Staunton voices Aunty Lucy in the film), Ball has a lot of admiration for Wood.
“As for Vic, I verge on being a stalkery fan of everything she’s done,” continues the West End star. “I think she’s brilliant. And this was something so different and exciting and challenging. It’s such a brave thing, because it’s unlike anything done before, so to be allowed to be part of it was a big thrill.”
Written and directed by Wood, That Day We Sang is a musical set in Manchester in 1969 with flashbacks to 1929, and an adaptation of her stage play of the same name.
“I thought of Imelda and Michael before [they appeared in Sweeney Todd], but imagined they were out of my league,” reveals Wood.
“Imelda’s very particular and I didn’t think she’d want to do it. I don’t know why. I self-deprecated myself out of the equation.
“I always knew Imelda was great and took a punt in Michael,” she adds, grinning.
It’s a warm and witty tale of Tubby (Ball) and Enid (Staunton), two lonely middle-aged people who grab a second chance at life after meeting at a reunion of the Manchester Children’s Choir, who made the iconic Columbia recording of Nymphs and Shepherds in 1929.
“It brings together everything I love; singing, dancing, comedy, love and chips,” explains Wood. “A musical set in 1929 and 1969, complete with tap dancing children, singing coal men and possibly a tram, was always going to be a big undertaking, but I lived in the blissful world of ignorance and I think that helped. Each day, you just did what you had to do. I look at it now and go, ‘Blimey!’”
The Bafta-winning writer recalls how she was 22 and living in a bedsit in Birmingham when she saw a documentary about the choir’s reunion. “Something stayed with me. The idea that maybe you have this special day and your subsequent life may not be quite match up to that memory,” says the 61-year-old.