John Can’t Stop The Beat

Helen Sanderson spoke to comedy actor John Thomson as he prepared for taking to the stage in the hit musical Hairspray

John, who has also appeared in TV favourites including The Fast Show, Coronation Street and Cold Feet, has been cast as Wilbur Turnblad in in the stage production of the musical Hairspray, and will feature when the tour hits Blackpool Winter Gardens for a three-week stint on 13th December.

Just like me, John was raised in the village of New Longton, near Preston. “Being raised in a small village that had two carpet shops and two churches probably explains a lot,” laughs John referring to the village that we have both called home. John grew up here in New Longton, attending All Hallows Catholic High School and Runshaw College.

John told me: “I grew up in New Longton and it was there, in my early teens that I got involved in the local drama class and met Kay Peacock. Before I met her I had loved performing, but she introduced me to the world of actors and plays. We read Shakespeare, Chekhov and modern writers and she taught me to love drama.

“Around the same time I got a school report which said that if I put as much effort into my work as I put into entertaining the class, I could do anything I wanted to do. That was when I decided I wanted to be an actor.”

John who performed in amateur productions and on the comedy circuit in Preston, studied acting at Manchester Polytechnic. While at the polytechnic he met Steve Coogan, who secured him a job on Spitting Image. They would continue to collaborate on programmes such as The Dead Good Show, a 1993 Granada TV pilot also starring Caroline Aherne, Coogan’s Run, the Paul and Pauline Calf video diaries (where he played ‘Fat Bob’) and Knowing Me, Knowing You… with Alan Partridge, which he also contributed to writing. He also appeared in Coogan’s live shows as compère Bernard Righton and the two would be reunited in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. The two won the Perrier Comedy Award in 1992 for their act at the Edinburgh Fringe.

John is best known for his role of Pete Gifford in Cold Feet, the comedy-drama series produced by Granada Television for the ITV network. John started alongside James Nesbitt, Helen Baxendale, Fay Ripley, Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst. The original series aired on 15th November 1998 to 16th March 2003. With a revival which aired from 5th September 2016.

Now 52, the role in Hairspray will be John’s first professional musical theatre role. When I asked him about the role he explained: “The producers approached me earlier this year. I had been considering my options and this role fell on my lap.

“It’s in Blackpool, I love the town, I know it well and it is close to home. I’m not doing pantomime this year so I thought why not. And now I’m in a heavy schedule of rehearsals, which includes, acting, dancing and singing lessons every day. The cast are brilliant and its such an energetic production, I just love it.”

John will take over as Wilbur from Norman Pace, who first played the role in 2017. He joins TV presenter Brenda Edwards who plays Motormouth Maybelle and West End stalwart Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad in the star-studded cast.

The musical is set in Baltimore in 1962, the musical’s story follows big-haired Tracy Turnblad, who is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national television and into the heart of teen idol Link Larkin. When Tracy becomes a local star, she is able to use her newfound fame to fight for liberation, tolerance, and interracial unity in Baltimore.

Based on the original film, which was released in 1988 and starred Divine and Ricki Lake. It’s a fun-filled, feel good show which is bursting with show-stopping numbers, dazzling costumes, and dizzying dance-routines that you can’t help but shimmy too! It also features some of musical theatre’s biggest and best hit songs, including Welcome to The 60s, You Can’t Stop The Beat and Good Morning Baltimore.

John concluded: “Hairspray really is a joyous, and uplifting musical that everyone needs right now! It’s a feel-good, fun loving musical that comes Blackpool’s Winter Garden this December and it’s the Christmas party you don’t want to miss!”

Hairspray The Musical
13th December 2021 – 2nd January 2022
Blackpool Opera House



Tedd Walmsley

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