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Wendi Peters in November last year, at Manchester Palace Theatre for the Frank Wildhorn & Friends concert

An interview with Wendi Peters

Hyacinth Bucket, cutting off heads and eating jam tarts; Wendi Peters talks to Sam Bennett ahead of the Wonderland run at New Theatre Oxford
Wonderland is at New Theatre Oxford 20th-25th February.

"It’s lovely playing different venues each week because I love going in on a Monday and assessing (sounds like the wrong word, like I’m doing a quote) the auditorium, my space and how differently I have to play her that week."

I saw Wendi Peters in November last year, at Manchester Palace Theatre for the Frank Wildhorn & Friends concert, and then again the morning after at a conference, where she spoke of how humble she’d felt being on stage with the likes of Broadway leads Laura Osnes and Jackie Burns – who she got to sing Jekyll and Hyde’s ‘Bring On The Men’ with.

 

Three months on, speaking to me, she refers to Osnes and Burns as girls (“because they’re younger than me”), and says to perform alongside them was “wonderful” for her, an “Oh my goodness” moment. With Wildhorn playing piano, and Jason Howland conducting the orchestra, the evening “felt special,” the former Corrie actor says. “Although we were in Manchester, I almost felt part of a Broadway company.”

As a mother of a teenager she “must have at some point watched the Disney Alice in Wonderland”, but she doesn’t remember doing so. She’s also not seen Tim Burton’s version of the Carroll classic. She has looked to other regions to shape her portrayal of the Queen of Hearts in the “Wicked-esque” Wonderland musical. What she’s created is a mix of Hyacinth Bucket, Queenie from Blackadder II, and characters she herself has played before.

I talk to her as she’s cutting heads off and eating jam tarts in Southend, at The Cliffs Pavilion – about the same size as New Theatre Oxford where she’ll be next. “It’s lovely playing different venues each week because I love going in on a Monday and assessing (sounds like the wrong word, like I’m doing a quote) the auditorium, my space and how differently I have to play her that week. If you’re in a massive theatre you’ve got to get to the back of the dress and upper circle; slightly smaller, and you can make it a little bit more intimate, and not project or push it quite as much.”

She tells me she’s not going to lie, and then that she doesn’t feel “that major buzz” she did in her younger days on stage. But “I adore live theatre,” she says, “there’s nothing like it.” She’s done her fair share of television, where “you don’t necessarily have any kind of buzz because there’s no reaction. There is adrenaline running because of the performance you’re giving but not to the same extent as when you’re on stage – especially in a musical when you’ve got a fabulous orchestra playing.”

Our conversation takes place not long after Valentine’s Day; how did the Queen of Hearts celebrate the occasion? “At home on my own looking after three dogs,” she says, informing me her husband was away in South Africa. “He did send some flowers and leave me chocolates and a card,” she continues, then recalling the message left in the latter – “Don’t forget to put the bins out.” I suppose not all evenings are as special as Frank Wildhorn & Friends.

- Sam Bennett

 

Wonderland is at New Theatre Oxford 20th-25th February.

 

Related Articles: Wildhorn: the polite purveyor of Wonderland