Tony Maudsley ready for Hairspray at Edinburgh Playhouse

Tony Maudsley plays Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Picture Ian Rutherford
Tony Maudsley plays Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Picture Ian Rutherford
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AT 6ft 4, Tony Maudsley is every bit a gentle giant; but then, as JK Rowling fans already know, he was the voice of Grawp, the friendly ogre in the fifth Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix.

Even Grawp, however, would be dwarfed by Maudsley’s current creation, his Edna Turnblad is a sight to behold.

“Imagine, 6ft 4ins, then adding a wig and heels,” laughs the 48-year-old, best known as Kenneth, the outrageously camp hairstylist in ITV’s Benidorm.

All this week, Maudsley is starring in Hairspray, a musical which champions equality for all at the Playhouse.

Based on John Waters’ 1988 movie, which was remade as a musical starring John Travolta in 2007, Hairspray takes place in Baltimore, 1962, where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV.

Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality...

Maudsley plays her Rubenesque mother, a part he admits he never imagined accepting.

“I had to be persuaded,” he says candidly. “When my agent phoned and asked, ‘Do you fancy this?’ I said, ‘No. Absolutely not’.

“I hadn’t done theatre for 12 years and hadn’t done a musical for 18 years - the last was South Pacific, which toured to the Festival Theatre in 1998. I was quite happy doing film and television.” He concedes he was “opting for the easy life.”

“Theatre is really hard work, it takes over your whole life,” he says, “and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that. So I had to think long and hard. But my agent pushed me.

“She said, ‘You’ve trained for three years to do these theatre skills and you haven’t done anything for so long. If you don’t do it now, you’re going to loose the skills. She had a point. I went home, listened to the Hairspray CD and within ten minutes had decided I wanted to do it.”

For Maudsley, Edna was very different role to the parts he had become known for, but then so too is Kenneth, both larger-than-life characters in every way.

“For many years I was known for doing serious parts, playing small, timid, dramatic roles... spending a lot of my time at work crying my eyes out,” he says.

“My dad had always asked why I didn’t do comedy. I’d say, ‘You don’t really get to pick and choose. It depends what comes knocking.

“Then Benidorm came along at just the right time and suddenly, this hugely popular commercial show, made me famous as Kenneth.”

The role changed his life, agrees the actor, who won The Royal Television Society’s Best Newcomer Award for his portrayal of Stefan Kisko in the 1998 TV movie, A Life for a Life.

“I can’t walk down the street easily anymore,” he laughs. “I do like it, but it would be nice to be able to turn it on and off when you choose.

“It’s not always great when, in the middle of a dinner with friends, there are six people waiting for a photograph with you.”

With a chuckle he adds, “But it is flattering. Would I like to be without it? Probably not.”

Like Edna, Kenneth is known for his garish outfits, although in the case of the Blow And Go hairstylist, it’s more a case of his lack of clothes. “Well I’m responsible for a lot of them,” he reveals, sheepishly. “One series we had a new costume designer who decided Kenneth should be a bit more covered, with less flesh on show.

“I fought and fought against it. I said, ‘The minute we start covering him up is the minute he starts apologising for what he is, and in my opinion Kenneth thinks he looks fabulous. The further up his arse those hot pants go, the better.’ And I won.”

That said, the first time Maudsley had to walk through the streets of Benidorm in character was a terrifying experience, he recalls.

“It was, because you don’t know how you are going to be received.

“To walk around in those hot pants and skimpy T-shirts, well, you’ve got to be loved to get away with that.

“If he was a character viewers didn’t take to, they wouldn’t forgive you for that.

“Actually, my friends on the show say I change when I put on Kenneth’s costume. I have an attitude about me. I think I need that bravado to walk through 500 holiday makers on the way from our dressing rooms to the set.”

There are, of course, similarities between Kenneth and Edna, of which Maudsley is only too aware.

“Both are about accepting who you are and loving who you are. Edna doesn’t love who she is to start with, Kenneth maybe loves himself a little too much. He’s a bit lacking in tact but I love him for that.”

With a ninth series of Benidorm calling, it won’t be long before Kenneth is once again lording it over the Solana Hotel and Maudsley has great news for fans.

“I’m excited about going back in front of the cameras as I’ve been doing this tour for seven months now, and we’ve been extended to do more episodes this year, nine instead of seven.”

The secret of Benidorm’s success is simple, he says, it’s down to the writing of Derren Litten.

“Nine years on he is still turning out scripts people seem to love. We still have a huge viewing audience, pushing six million and we’re quite proud of the fact that have now out-filmed Only Fools and Horses by quite a number of episodes,” he grins.

Hairspray, Playhouse, Greenside Place, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £23.90-£53.90, 0844-871 3014