Theatre Guide: Toyah - The Big Interview - 26th June 2003
In a year
which has seen her shot back into the public
awareness courtesy of a stint on reality TV show
Im A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Toyah
Willcox is now leading the cast of wild west
musical Calamity Jane, opening on June 26
at the Shaftesbury. Matthew Amer caught up with
her to get some advice on how a whip should
properly be cracked away
been a year of resurgence for the diminutive diva
best known for her days as the fiery princess of
punk. A short break in the middle of the Calamity
Jane tour gave her time to adventure into the
Australian outback to be watched over 24/7 by an
avid viewing public waiting for the next time a
plastic snake, fake spider or Anthony Worral
Thompson might drive her to shout the immortal
words Im a celebrity, get me out of
here. Now shes back on Blightys
fair shores and heading to the West End faster
than a speeding wagon train.
added a bit more b******s to it!"
whip-cracking, rip-roaring musical has been
touring the country since last year with only a
short break for Willcoxs antipodean
adventure. The show was well received by regional
audiences, but, not resting on their cowboy
themed laurels the cast have taken it up a
notch for the West End opening.
Weve kind of revamped it so its
more West End and weve put big
dance numbers in. Weve added a bit more
b******s to it!
describes the comic cowboy caper as a play
about 20 characters who are all quite deviant in
their ways. If you took any of them out of their
community and put them in New York or Chicago
theyd all get arrested within an
hour. The eponymous deviant, the
unfortunately monikered Calamity Jane [what kind
of parent names their child Calamity!], risks her
reputation by promising to bring a sexy singing
sensation to Dakotas Golden Garter Saloon.
After an unfortunate case of mistaken identity
and some hilarious hi-jinks she delivers the
goods, but this is only the start of the
was made famous by the 1950s film starring Doris
Day which won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Day is considered one of the great screen icons,
so surely this puts a weight of pressure on
Willcoxs petite shoulders? No,
because Doris Day is, I think, very much a period
piece and what were doing is very much
about human nature. Our production is not
saccharine sweet, its really very ballsy.
There are no sequins in our production
are no sequins in our production
anti-glitter stand that Willcox takes, which is
sure to aggravate one group of activists or
another The Army for the Liberation of
Tinsel? is demonstrative of her desire for
a particular type of female role. In the past she
has unforgettably played Mad in the seminal punk
movie Jubilee and Monkey, who was not hairy and
didnt eat bananas, in Quadrophenia. I
only look for strong, female roles. Youre
never going to see me as a romantic, young
heroine; I relate to unusual heroines. Because
Calamity Jane is such an oddball you can do so
much with the character. You can go in places
that you wouldnt dare go with
Ophelia. It is fair to say that any
theatregoer would be surprised to see a whiskey
drinking, gun-toting, 10-gallon-hat-wearing
Ophelia going ever so slightly mad while Hamlet
propped up the bar and watched some showgirls.
As well as
possessing mental and spiritual strength, the
Calamity in this production also has to be very
strong physically. The show has a real
get-up-and-go vibrancy about it with big dance
numbers and an extremely active cast that the
Duracell bunny would be pressed to keep up with.
Its like running a marathon for two
hours. Its the kind of part where I
cant let people talk to me during the show
because if Im distracted I either hurt
myself or Im not on stage in time.
Were keeping chiropractors in business
around the country.
penchant for the physical things in life was one
aspect of her character that shone brightly while
she was doing Im A Celebrity Get Me Out Of
Here. Sadly for Willcox, who was geared up to do
scary/revolting/utterly undesirable tasks each
day, footballing favourite and King of Gladiators
John Fashanu got to do the lions share of the
tasks often wearing eel helmets, walking rickety
rope bridges or swimming with Great White Sharks
while wearing a tuna thong [that last one is not
remotely true, but it would make good
television]. When Willcox was given a chance to
get her hands dirty it was in the most repulsive
manner having to pull meal tokens out of a
stinking bog full of rotten debris. Admittedly
this is not everyones idea of fun and most
would not want to put themselves through it, but
this is just where the action woman in Willcox
shone through. I love anything physically
challenging, it suits my sense of
humour. Willcox actually asked
Im A Celebritys producers, at a
meeting entirely unrelated to the show, whether
she could take part in the show.
keeping chiropractors in business around the
contrast to last years Australian escapade,
which saw numerous members of the
cast nearly come to blows, this
years merry band of celebrity survivors
decided to tackle the task as a team. So strong
was their bond that they even rebelled against
the Gods of television, often called producers,
when they thought they were not being treated
fairly. At the time they had not realised that
the whole point of sending a group of celebrities
into the jungle was for the warm hearted public
to see them suffer it seems unlikely that
they were ever going to be treated fairly. Still,
the celebs held strong in the face of adversity.
We just thought, were not in
here to lose our dignity, were here to
actually try and achieve something for our
charities. I think it was a remarkable
privilege to be asked to do it. Ive got no
regrets about it at all.
does not regret many things, preferring to look
to the future rather than dwell on the past. With
such an eclectic and eccentric past that includes
a punk/pop career, acting at the National Theatre
and being the voice of the
Teletubbies it would seem a shame to forget about
it completely, but Willcox is a woman driven by
ambition; even the present does not hold her
attention for long as she admits she only
looks to the future rather than enjoy[ing] the
moment. But what of the future? It would
have been hard to predict that the actress who
played Monkey in Quadrophenia would later present
shows about differing spiritual outlooks on life
or that a young punk setting the music world
alight would ever play Calamity Jane in the West
End. If Willcox has her way, it will
involve a little less work and a lot more play.
I just work and work and work. Its
something Ive been trying to address, along
with my husband, for the last two years. Both of
us are complete workaholics and keep forgetting
that actually life isnt about work,
its about downtime. Never a truer
word spoken, but one wonders whether Willcox will
ever slow down and take time to enjoy the moment
rather than looking to the future. What does the
future hold? Its a mystery.
Blackpool: Toyah Triumphs Over calamity - 5th June 2003
mystery why Toyah's never out of work. This
performing powerhouse barely draws breath before
whip-cracking on with one project after
The former punk
chick -- still loved for her lisp -- was this
week riding the Deadwood Stage to Blackpool Opera
House to play romantic tomboy Calamity
Blackpool. I just think it's so much fun,"
especially love Blackpool in the winter. I like
having the piers and the front to
She won't have
much time to dally on the Prom this week, though.
Calamity Jane opened in Blackpool on Tuesday --
the last week of an extensive nationwide tour --
and then Toyah heads straight to London's West
End for a three month run, starting June
The show is
packed with well-known numbers -- Deadwood Stage,
Secret Love, Windy City, The Black Hills of
Dakota to name but a few.
But this is no
tribute to the cute 1953 film version starring
Doris Day, Toyah says.
audiences have moved on a long way from the 1950s
film. We are a very young company. Our production
isn't quaint, it's very boisterous!"
(her real name) was born in Kings Heath,
Birmingham on May 18, 1958.
drama school at 17, joined the National Theatre a
year later, and got her first big break in Derek
Jarman's 1977 classic punk film, Jubilee.
all-rounder -- "I always wanted to sing and
act" -- she then formed her own band,
enjoying hits with It's A Mystery and I Wanna Be
Free and releasing countless albums. Her latest,
Velvet Lined Shell, went on sale last
film and theatre CV includes Quadrophenia and
appearances alongside Katherine Hepburn and
Laurence Olivier. And she plays fertility expert
Dr Johnson in forthcoming comedy film, The Most
Fertile Man In Ireland.
then, that she also holds an Honorary Doctorate
in Arts and Media from Birmingham University and
has 'worked every day for 25 years'.
have preferences in my work. If I had preferences
I couldn't be so diverse," she
And that's why
you'll never catch Toyah 'just resting'. Whip
The Guide: Less marshmallow but
that's no calamity - 16th April 2003
publicity blurb for Calamity Jane says Toyah
Willcoxs approach to the title role will
re-define the character for a contemporary
audience. So the first question has to be:
actress who became a punk rocker and then an
actress again, initially laughs at the blurb and
then offers a serious reply.
have come a long way since the 1950s, she
says. What we have inherited is a film many
generations love, and thats what we are
doing the same love story and the same
film was written to celebrate the role of women
in the second world war and we have had to
address the marshmallow element.
out that Jane was based on a real woman. Martha
Jane Cannary, born in 1852, dressed, drank and
fought like a man, although she was prone to
exaggerate her exploits.
Whether she had
a romantic relationship with Wild Bill Hickock is
unknown, but the story goes that she made a
deathbed request to be buried beside him.
She was a pioneer, and we have kind of
married historical truth with the film to make
something thats far grittier but still has
we have done the right thing because we are
getting a tremendous age-range in our audiences
and are giving them something they can recognise.
is that the character appeals to Toyahs
natural rebelliousness, and she goes along with
not wanting to be part of the norm. But its
also about adventure, which appeals to
is her first musical since she did Cabaret 20
years ago apart from Peter Pan which
is a bit different, she says.
Jane is more like a play with music and I can
excel as an actress rather than a musician. It is
about comic timing, and that appeals to me.
which also features Alasdair Harvey as Bill
Hickock and is directed by Ed Curtis, is
choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood.
the same function on Chichester Festival
Theatres 2001 hit musical, My One and Only,
which successfully transferred to the West End.
Toyah says he
has left a huge, almost irreverent imprint on the
present production, bringing humour and
sensuality to it.
Daily Echo/This Is Southampton: Calamity Jane - 7th April 2003
leaving her pink-haired punk rock days back in
the Eighties. Toyah Willcox talks to Sally
Churchward about her new venture, Calamity
The idea an
'80s punk icon dancing and singing her way
through a role made famous by Doris Day might
seem a bit unlikely.
considers playing the title role in Calamity Jane
to be part of the liberating process of getting
when you're older, and especially being an older
woman, people just let you be," says the
have to worry about being a sex symbol or what
the latest trends are - at least that's how I
feel that I'm expected to be a fashion victim at
my age and that's a really wonderful, liberating
feeling, because it means I can do things as mad
as Calamity Jane and people aren't offended by my
taking a complete change in direction, so I think
I'm in a really lucky position."
hasn't always had such a laid-back attitude
towards her appearance.
Back in the
early '80s, when she was racking up charts hits
such as It's a Mystery, I Want to be Free and
Thunder in the Mountains, she would hardly have
considered leaving the house without first
spraying half a can of Elnette at her head and
loading up on the eyeshadow.
And it's an
image that's lasted, even if she's left her
warpaint long behind.
almost like looking at a daughter," she says
of pictures of herself taken back in the early
think about it that often and I certainly don't
the same time I'm very proud of my past and very
grateful for it because it's allowed me to do
what I do today and I intended those images to
last a long time.
to create iconic images and worldwide they have
in certain countries, those images are up
everywhere but they don't know who they are of.
"I had a
friend come back from Peru the other day and she
said my face was plastered everywhere and I said,
`Well, that's funny because I never released
anything in Peru,' so the images have persevered
very, very well."
And it's not
just the images that have lasted.
celebrating her 25th anniversary of being in show
business this year. She's marking the occasion
with the release of a mini-album, Velvet Lined
Shell, on her own record label.
recorded it while I was on tour with Calamity
Jane, that's why it's a mini-album," she
a celebratory piece for the fans, really. It's
exciting but I'm realistic about it.
a piece to celebrate 25 years in the industry I'm
not looking to change the world."
But even if
Toyah is releasing the album for her fans, rather
than to set the music industry alight again,
there's no denying that her music career is
enjoying something of a renaissance.
Her albums are
being re-released and she has found herself voted
as the most influential woman in punk by several
taken me by surprise," she says of the
burgeoning interest in her music career.
on the front cover of NME two weeks ago I was
named along with Siouxsie Sioux as an influential
act to American females and I don't consider
myself to be in that side of the business any
and release my own material on my own label but
it's just a small cottage industry, and I think
it's really, really nice that new generations
have picked up on the old stuff, because it
certainly hasn't been pushed in their faces - I'm
really quite laid back about it."
But would she
consider trying to top the singles chart again?
don't even think about it," she says.
I make the
mistake of asking if this is because it would be
too much hard work.
words in my mouth," she responds abruptly.
even think about it, I've got other things to
Toyah might not
want to talk about her reasons for not entering
the music industry again, but she's more than
happy to chat away about her current project,
Calamity Jane, which opens at The Mayflower,
Southampton, on Tuesday.
Jane is a role I've always loved because I
remember the film - it's one of those wonderful
Saturday afternoon rainy day films.
always thought that she was an interesting
heroine - a woman who dresses and behaves like a
man," she says enthusiastically.
just so much scope in that she's great fun to
watch and great fun to play.
a real woman - she really existed.
and dressed as a man in the frontier land of
America in around 1860 and she had a phenomenally
exciting to play someone who really
she loves the show, Toyah has found some parts of
it difficult to play.
Jane isn't a politically correct piece.
finding very hard, especially at the moment with
the war going on, is Calamity, refers to battles
all the time - she fantasises about being in
battle and I decided to play those parts deadly
seriously because I didn't want any humour in
those moments," she says.
done nothing but add to the poignancy of the
story, which is about how love will out."
might fantasise about wars, but what does Toyah
think about them?
want everyone to come home safely, on both
sides," she says of the current war in Iraq.
the baddies would drop down dead and all the
innocent people would be left to have good lives.
don't like war and I wish in this day and age we
could pinpoint the despot and everyone could get
on with their lives on both sides - I think it's
EDP24: Calamity Jane fizzing
with Toyah - 17th March 2003
encounter with Toyah was a very different affair.
A hot, bouncing, noisome affair, in fact. No, not
that. It was the early 1980s. Middlesbrough Town
Hall. Toyah is onstage, dressed like Boudica,
blasting her attractive brand of rebellion to the
I am on the
balcony, squished in a squash of punk, post-punk,
new wave and blow-waved blokes, watching with
faint alarm as this tiny, demented little
firecracker fizzes about below.
Be Free, she implores. It's a
Mystery, she concludes.
It was a good
night only the second gig I had ever seen,
in fact. The first Bob Geldof's petulant
Boomtown Rats had served up a similar mix
of theatricality and adolescent angst. And both
acts suited the sad glamour of a grand Victorian
building in a broken industrial town.
and Toyah are still standing.
An ocean has
flopped under the bridge since then, of course
Toyah has become Toyah
Willcox, 44-year-old showbiz face
but the fizz and the fire have not been
I open the
bidding with a question about following a tough
act in the form of original Calamity Jane star
Doris Day. Toyah practically gnaws my head off:
not. I'm not following a tough act at all. My
performance is 100 miles away from Doris Day's.
Women have moved on 50 years since Doris Day's
rather saccharine performance.
Mmm. Not a
But as she
elaborates she mellows, even conceding that the
classic, golden age Hollywood musical is an
absolute gift primarily because it
means theatre-goers today arrive pre-programmed
with the story line in their heads and the
hum-along-tunes on their lips.
Oh, and just in
case you have been residing in a Hebridean cave
with nothing but a puffin for company, here is
the Calamity Jane thing:
tomboy Indian scout, makes an ill-advised pledge
to bring a famous Chicago star to a tiny saloon
bar in Dakota. After much mishap and muddle along
the way, the dainty chanteuse and cross-dressing
heroine become bestest mates and Calamity even
finds her feminine side. And then men go and muck
rip-roaring, whip-cracking, gun-toting,
tough-talking, hard-riding, buckskin-slapping
fun. Then add rabble-rousing songs like The
Deadwood Stage, Windy City, Black Hills of Dakota
and Secret Love. Get the picture?
Toyah has been
Calamitous for some six months now and, make no
mistake, this is no Panto-style cash cow for her.
She is taking it deadly seriously: I'm
immensely proud of Calamity. I think it's a
massive achievement. Our production is very much
a play with music it's not a kind of
sequined production. It's very nitty-gritty and
far more interested in the real historical values
of the people we are playing. Calamity Jane was a
real woman (Martha Jane Cannary, fact fans), a
real pioneer who lived around 1860.
She was a
scout for the army, lived and dressed like a man
and was a hard drinker. She was a real, robust,
bombastic character phenomenally
interesting and wonderful to play.
accounts, Toyah flings herself about the stage
like a pumped-up beach ball. (Check out the
brilliant diary entries on her official website
for alarming descriptions of dislocations and
Toyah, my old
fruit you must be absolutely exhausted?
exhausting, but very rewarding. We've been on the
road since September and as far as I'm concerned
I'm still very much in love with the show
and I've got hopefully another five months to go
She might say
this to all the boys, of course, but she proceeds
to swear that she is particularly looking forward
to the Norwich leg: I love it it's a
gorgeous place. I've got some very good friends
up there so I'm often weekending there.
In its 25-year
trajectory, Toyah's career has chopped and
changed its course like one of those fireworks
that chops and changes course a great deal.
She began as an
actress at the National Theatre and first sparked
the public imagination in 1977 when she played a
mad character called, err, Mad, in
Derek Jarman's art-punk movie Jubilee.
started up her own band but took care to keep up
the theatrics, appearing alongside Katherine
Hepburn in The Corn is Green and in Quadrophenia
and Jarman's The Tempest.
By the early
1980s, singer-Toyah bagged a couple of big hits,
winning Best Female Singer at the British Rock
& Pop awards, and seemed set for popstardom
But still she
refused to ditch the drama. A string of West End
productions followed, including a starring role
as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Strand Theatre,
a spot opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in Granada's
The Ebony Tower, and the perfect Puck in A
Midsummer Night's Dream at Regent's Park.
there have been a string of TV shows kids
and adults Panto, an Eighties' bands
revival tour and
eclecticism, Ms Willcox, this is complete
know what it is, but different people like me for
different reasons. I was so lucky that Derek
Jarman treated me like his muse in his early film
years and people like Anne Wood, who created
Teletubbies, thinks I have a great way with
feel incredibly lucky that people trust me in
different genres and I don't know why or what it
And if you had
to choose just one of those worlds?
she answers before I've even finished the
that's because film is so glamorous. Singing was
great while I was younger but it's not something
I want to do forever.
admit that as I get older I am happier hiding
behind a character than being me.
She admits to
being an utter workaholic, feeling more
alive at work than home. This is
principally because she has no family
and no reason to go home at night,
she says. (Presumably her equally famous musician
husband Robert Fripp is permanently swanning off
around the globe, fiddling about with his
Her drive, and
she clearly has Aston Martin amounts, was ignited
during her troubled Birmingham childhood, she
agrees a time of dyslexia, illness, weird
hair and rebellion:
I have a
certain kind of determination because everyone
wrote me off early on and I was very aware of
that as a child.
wasn't conventionally, physically beautiful, I
was very aware that I was going to have to fight
harder than most.
As they did for
many other ugly young ducklings in 1970s England,
spiked hair and safety pins provided the escape
route. Toyah says she is still madly in
love with Punk philosophy.
it brought generations into a new positive light
and I think that kind of ethic never leaves you.
wildly enthusiastic about anyone and everyone I
meet because I only see the good in people. That
really was the punk philosophy. I think what I do
today is no different from that. I go into a job
because I want to be in love with it, not just
because I want to earn cash.
indulgent nostalgia, but you don't happen to
remember playing a gig at Middlesbrough Town Hall
in the early 1980s do you?
she replies, quick as a flash. With the
balcony that bounced. It was a great gig. I can
remember nearly stopping the show because no-one
warned me that it bounced like that.
Told you it was
Calamity - 13th March 2003
few things Toyah Willcox has not done. She has
been a film actress, rock star, appeared in stage
and television dramas, flown around as Peter Pan
and worked in children's television.
So I put it to
her when we meet that she must be a workaholic.
"No, just very old," she laughs (she's
actually somewhere in her mid 40s). "I
happen to like my work, I enjoy it."
There has been
no career game plan. "It's all been a happy
accident," she says. "I have this kind
of idea that a lot of people say no to work and I
say yes so I always get something good."
"something good" at the moment is the
starring role in a new stage production of the
film musical Calamity Jane. That's right - the
one that originally starred Hollywood's Queen of
Clean, Doris Day.
At first glance
it may seem unlikely that Toyah, a punk Goddess
with huge success in the 1980s, would slip easily
into the role.
But that's the
strange thing about Ms. Will-cox - that wild rock
act was just part of a life that has seen her
acting with Laurence Olivier and supplying the
narration for Teletubbies. She began her stage
career at the National Theatre.
expect a Doris Day-style interpretation of
Calamity Jane when the musical arrives at
Liverpool's Empire Theatre from 1 April for a
was asked to do this I said I did not want to do
a Doris Day interpretation, I wanted to bring the
show into the new millennium and treat it how
women are today and how I felt women were years
ago when pioneers in America. "I wanted
something gritty which kicked ass a bit
As it was, she
was already a fan of the film on which the stage
version was based and had watched it 10 times.
The first stage
production had been tried out in the late 1970s
with - amazingly - Barbara Windsor in the title
role. It toured but never made it into the West
End after Windsor left the production. A later
touring version starred Gemma Craven.
But the latest
version with Toyah is a "brand, spanking new
production, everything is new from top to
bottom," she says. "It's a completely
It had to be
with a 24-year-old director Ed Smith and a
24-year-old producer Tristan Baker.
the old Cambridge Footlights when you had this
little group of drama school pupils and you knew
they were going to do something substantial.
That's what this team feels like, you know they
are going on and on. They are incredibly young
but they have got their heads screwed on."
Mind you, she
has managed to put some of them back again.
"We are all a creative team, the director
producer, me and my leading man Alasdair Harvey
as Wild Bill Hickock. He was the lead in Beauty
and the Beast in the West End for two
The result is
that the show - hopefully heading for the West
End - has been changing all the time since it
began its tour last year. "We have been
perfecting it. It is said it takes a year to
produce a definitive version for a musical so we
have been tightening it up and exploring
The story is
set around the love-hate relationship between
Calamity and Wild Bill with various subplots more
than filling out the background.
The hit film
was a wonderful inheritance, Toyah allows.
"We are just giving it a bit more edge and
making it historically accurate."
So there have
been changes. In the film, the rough, tough,
gun-shooting Calamity finally gets into a dress
and goes all girly.
do get into a ballgown but end up tearing it up
and getting back into buckskin," says Toyah.
Funny enough, audiences are divided over that. My
compromise was that I become as feminine as I
think a character can considering she is a free
And she does
wear real buckskin. "It's bloody hot,"
version does include some new numbers by the
original writing team of Sammy Fain and Paul
Francis Webster. "They are all in the first
scene and they are good songs, in one I crack a
bullwhip and another I am climbing all over the
scenery so visually they are very good.
But film fans
fear not, the opening number is still that
dashing The Deadwood Stage. And Calamity does get
to ride a stagecoach.
marks Toyah's 25th year in showbusiness and she
is concentrating all her resources into the
production. The music tours are being wound down.
are some concerts in May and a mini-album which
is really just fan-based. I am planning a big
show in Birmingham and a big show in London, and
that's about it."
It was as a
rock performer that she made here last Liverpool
appearance at the Empire and as was the thing
with such tours it was a matter of arriving,
doing the show and moving on.
But she does
have a closer link with the city. The sculptor
Elizabeth Frink was a close friend and she went
to see her when working on the statue of Christ
for Liverpool Cathedral. "She had very bad
throat cancer at the time and told me that
working on the sculpture was the thing that was
keeping her alive. She died as soon as it was
So it was on
her death that Toyah drove to Liverpool to see
the sculpture in place. "And there it was,
right above the doorway and looking
Shopper: Toyah Interview - 27th February 2003
multi-talented Toyah Willcox is about to
whip-crack her way to The Orchard, in Dartford,
with a stage version of Calamity Jane, the film
classic immortalised by Doris Day. And Willcox,
who has worked with Hollywood legends Laurence
Olivier and Katherine Hepburn, says this classic
comedy musical is the most demanding role she has
ever taken on.
actress starred in ground-breaking and
controversial films such as Jubilee and
Quadrophenia, this is quite a statement.
The former pop
star says she was a fan of the original film but
she added: "I'm not doing a Doris Day
original was a 1950s' period piece. We are trying
to recreate the way it was in the Wild West and
how people behaved without inhibitions. But in a
way Calamity has her inhibitions because she is
hiding her femininity. Our version is a bit more
nitty-gritty, even though the audience will leave
the theatre with a smile on their faces.
always been one of those parts I wanted to have a
go at. I trained for six months to make sure I
had the stamina, which is just as well because it
is a very demanding role."
follows the adventures of a tough-talking Indian
scout. She was named Calamity Jane by a Major she
saved in war because she always seemed to be
around chaotic situations. She puts her
reputation on the line when she promises to bring
a famous singing star, Adelaide Adams, from
Chicago to Dakota's Golden Garter Saloon.
After a small
matter of mistaken identity, the dainty chanteuse
and our hero become the best of friends until,
that is, the hard-riding, hard-drinking,
gun-toting cow girl realises she may have a rival
for the affections of the Deadwood's two most
eligible cowboys, Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin and
Wild Bill Hickock.
But will the
two gals sort out their differences?
venture, Willcox was part of the sell-out Here
and Now Tour, where she appeared alongside
Spandau Ballet, ABC and Belinda Carlisle. The
44-year-old did a 20-minute slot where she belted
out her favourite hits, It's a Mystery, I Wanna
be Free and Thunder in the Mountains.
She says she's
not too concerned today's youngsters will not
remember Toyah the singer.
"I'm better known for children's shows such
as Teletubbies, Aunt Boomerang and my presenting
to see Calamity Jane move to the West End after
the tour ends in June. But she says after that
she has no preference about what sort of work
comes her way she wants to go on doing anything
Messenger: Calamity is her good fortune - 7th February 2003
Willcox is heading to Kent in the musical
Calamity Jane. For someone who's not a particular
fan of musicals she's having a great time.
Michael DeFroand found out why.
fantastic, really great," enthused Toyah
Willcox about her role as Calamity Jane as she
prepared for the second leg of her national tour.
getting some really great reviews. It's a high
energy production. There's music, a great love
story, lots of comedy and plenty of action. I'm
not usually a big fan of musicals. I never
thought I'd do one but this is such a good story
and has such a great script."
was made famous by Doris Day in the classic 1953
watched the film so many times over the
years," said Toyah. "And we re-watched
it in preparation for this tour but this
production is really quite earthy and edgy. It's
very Wild West, there's not a sequin in
very physical part. I get thrown about and we've
all had to learn how to handle guns and
bullwhips. The guns are so loud and the bullwhips
are really tricky. It's quite a responsibility
handling the whips, you can easily cut someone if
you're not careful."
of action, music and excitement makes Calamity
Jane a real family attraction.
explained: "We've been seeing an
unbelievable age range in the audience. Before I
started the musical, I thought the audience may
be in their 20s and above but lots of families
have been coming and the children have been
really enthralled - there's lots of fighting and
action and plenty to keep them amused. It ends
well, too - it's an uplifting musical."
will tell you that touring is tiring, but Toyah
has a different take on it.
honest, it's fun," she said. "I
wouldn't like to tour with the Scottish play but
this one is really enjoyable. Plus, I love
Canterbury - I was in panto there in Peter
So, with a
recent spate in panto and the second leg of
Calamity Jane underway, how does Toyah relax?
walking," she said. "I'll probably walk
around Canterbury after the show. Also, I spend
about four hours in the bath - two hours in the
morning and two in the evening."
celebrities bemoan the fact that they can't get
on television as often as they'd like, Toyah has
remained a familiar face.
lucky," she added. "First of all I've
got a very good agent. Also, I have specialities
that the TV can call upon - I specialise in
alternative remedies, fitness and diets. I
had a nutrition expert with me throughout the
1980s, so I know quite a lot about that."
What lies ahead
keeping the diary open at the moment because I'm
touring with Calamity Jane up until May and then
we might be able to take it to the West End. So,
Recorder: Plain Talking Jane - 31st January 2003
talks to Toyah Willcox about her role as the
hard-drinking, hard-cussing, hard-riding,
Calamity Jane, shooting star of the Wild West.
Toyah Willcox has put a new slant on the old
theatrical saying "the smell of the
greasepaint" only she reckons it's not just
the aroma of greasepaint on the actors in
Calamity Jane at Westcliff's Cliffs Pavilion.
this production," she said. "It's very
physical and fast action from start to finish, so
you can certainly smell we are working
with a whole company of action men and women are
on the road with a huge star-studded production
of Calamity Jane, a true story based on a Wild
West woman, Martha Jane Cannary, who was
immortalised by Doris Day in the Warner Brothers
classic film of the same name.
reaches the Cliffs Pavilion for six nights later
Martha, the true story is wrapped round the myths
and legends of Wild Bill Hickock, who Martha
apparently requested to be buried beside.
Life was tough
in 1850 Nevada, and the legend of Calamity Jane
grew up against the background of American
Indians fighting for their homeland against the
settlers, miners and farmers. That legendary time
in the development of the Western US states
provided the rich backdrop for her story.
Martha was born
in Missouri in 1848, but moved to Virginia City
where an Indian uprising separated her from her
family at the tender age of 10.
from place to place and soon became a respected
scout for the cavalry, showing great courage and
daring the equal of any man, let alone woman.
horsemanship, shooting and skills at swearing and
drinking, along with the daring rescue of a
stagecoach full of men from an Indian attack, and
saving a wounded solder from a battle, ensured
her legendary status, which she built on in the
A friend of
Wild Bill, Martha, by now nicknamed Calamity Jane
by the soldier she rescued, went into the
entertainment business once the West was well and
truly tamed. She died in 1903 after a drinking
story will probably never be fully known, but for
the romantic Americans, the fact that she shot,
drank, rode a horse and was brave, was enough to
produce the film that rocketed Doris Day into
stardom in the late 1950's.
willingness to take on the role was obvious by
the enthusiasm she has for the part.
pure entertainment and we all literally have to
throw ourselves into the parts.
I would have to be nursing my voice with all
those fabulous songs, but I spend more time with
people were pioneers and did not have any
luxuries. It was all do, and make do, so their
life was, by definition, rough."
To prove her
point, Toyah has to leap from the top of the
stagecoach to the stage, and quite literally
throw herself around in fights.
thing you worry about is fear," she said.
"There's no time, it's all go.
should see my muscles. They are as hard as
The visit to
Westcliff is about midway through the tough tour,
and speaking last week from Edinburgh, Toyah said
that the whole run in the Scottish capital was
has caught the imagination," she said.
"It is a love story basically, but a very
tough love story.
Jane was no sweet thing in long dresses, she
could out-shoot, out-drink, and out-cuss most
men, so though quite a lot of the story may be
myth, the legend is as strong as they come."
multi-skilling in the theatre is drawn on fully
for the role. With songs such as: The Deadwood
Stage; Windy City; The Black Hills of Dakota and
Secret Love, she has a testing time vocally.
enough there is only one song that I have to belt
out, the rest are a bit like Country and
Western," she said.
Her last visit
to the area was in a tour of The Live Bed Show
with Joe McGann at the Queen's in Hornchurch.
South Devon: Toyah breezes in on Bay Stage - 7th November 2002
of the wilder children of punk? Get away. She's
had a sheltered life, really.
that's what she says. While other punkmeisters
were messing themselves up with serious drink and
drug habits, poor old Toyah would sit in hotel
rooms and ask herself "where are all the
had an eight-year career as a pop star and never
once joined the space cadet fraternity. For
"I Want to be Free", read "I want
to marry Robert Fripp but hardly ever see him and
spend almost my entire adult life on the
Toyah's been back on stage and screen, where in
fact she belongs. Now 44, she wanted to be a
performer from the age of seven and by 18 was on
stage at the National Theatre. By 20, she was
cutting her first album, Sheep farming in
preferred being an actor to being a pop star,
though. "I liked going back into the theatre
because there, people aren't interested in you
only as an ego, someone who has to perform all
the time. In the theatre you're part of a
happier with that."
Toyah was one
of those overnight stars, with massive hits such
as I Want to Be Free in 1981. This was in the
days, too, when celebrity was different. People
wouldn't just say to their friends "oh,
look, there goes Angus Deayton" and turn
back to their cappuccinos, like they do
was just not done in those days. People would see
me from 100 yards away and just know it was me.
Back then people used to go bonkers over
celebrities. I'd be in a car at a set of traffic
lights and get mobbed. I'm not complaining, but
from being anonymous, within 24 hours everywhere
I went I'd see my picture."
stars, though, there weren't any skeletons in her
closet to fall rattling on to the front pages of
the tabloids. "I haven't slept with any
prostitutes and I haven't raped anyone, I'm
tabloids would have to be pretty desperate to run
anything on me. I'm amazed at what a charmed life
I led, because all my friends were having a riot.
I was very protected. It was almost a chaste
life. I ended up thinking: "How did all that
pass me by? Where were all the orgies? After a
show I would be just put in a car and taken to a
She's been an
inspiration to famed art house film director
Derek Jarman, though. Toyah was in his films
Jubilee and The Tempest. "It was lovely
because Derek treated me like a muse. It was the
only time I ever experienced that. I knew little
about Shakespeare and I was ready to turn down
the part of Miranda in The Tempest.
taught me so much about Shakespeare, about his
obscure references. It was fascinating and I wish
we'd learnt that sort of stuff at
Now, 15 years
after returning to the stage at the Birmingham
Rep, she's playing Calamity Jane in a tour.
"This isn't a sequinned production. We've
tried to make it gritty."
from the fragrant Doris Day, then. "I
identify with the real Calamity Jane, who lived
around 1850, because her pioneer spirit was more
remarkable than anything that's come since.
survived by pretending to be mad. She was right
on the frontier at a time when the Indians were
fighting the Americans, but the Indians left her
alone because they thought she was
is based on the hard-drinking, tough-talking
exploits of the real-life Martha Jane Cannary.
Calamity, which includes classics such as The
Deadwood Stage, Windy City, The Black Hills of
Dakota and Secret Love is, of course, highly
But the flavour
of Martha is still there. Toyah, whose name comes
from an Indian tribe, has the same free spirit.
She's been married to former King Crimson
guitarist Robert Fripp for 17 years but the
couple have no children and often pass like ships
in the night. "I've been on the road for 25
years and that's how I like it, so having
children doesn't interest me.
and I tend to meet in hotels in exotic locations,
which is why we're still together. Neither of us
can bear being at home." Even when that home
was until recently the beautiful former Wiltshire
residence of photographer Cecil Beaton.
touring, being part of a team. That's the way she
Herald Express: Toyah adds danger to Calamity Jane
role - 7th
Death was a
daily occurence where the only law was the law of
talks to an ex-punk star stepping into Doris
Stage is coming on over the hill, and on board is
Toyah Willcox - playing the title role in a brand
new production of Calamity Jane.
The story is
based on a real life character, Martha Jane
Cannary who was born in 1852, and dressed, drank
and fought like a man.
The musical was
popular as an Oscar-winning film starring Doris
Day and features such classic songs as The
Deadwood Stage, Windy City, Black Hills of Dakota
and Secret Love.
As you would
expect with Toyah involved, this version will be
different. "It's much more real and much
more gritty," explains Toyah.
young company and it's a very high energy
production. We've tried to put the sense of
danger back into it which was taken away in the
1950s when Calamity Jane was given a kind of
a daily occurrence where the only law was the law
of the gun. Only two people on stage carry a gun
- me and Wild Bill - and both of us kill
community where anarchy can break out at any time
and we've made the fights much more real -
they're not a comedy stage fight."
that this dash of realism does surprise audiences
who are expecting a typical musical.
difficult to portray and it would be easy to slip
in to doing a 'nice musical' but the music
becomes a real celebration of life and is much
It's not known
whether the real Calamity Jane had a romantic
relationship with Wild Bill Hickock, as she does
in the show, but the story goes that she made a
deathbed request to be buried beside him.
The story is
set in Deadwood, a typical wild west town in
Dakota where Indian scout Calamity Jane, is as
hard-riding, gun-toting and as boastful as any
man on the prairie.
She puts her
reputation on the line when she promises to bring
a famous singing star all the way from Chicago to
the Golden Garter Saloon. But the new, and very
feminine, arrival provides competition for the
affections of the town's two most eligible
cowboys, the dashing Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin
and fast drawing Wild Bill Hickock.
remarkable - she dressed like a man and was a
scout for the army," says Toyah. "She
led a dangerous life and survived.
musical was written as a vehicle for Doris Day
and was a celebration of the role women played
during the Second World War.
taken things from the Doris Day production - like
the arrangements for Secret Love. We just play
that moment. The rest of the play is very fast
and very aggressive."
enjoyed a wide range of roles from films like
Jubilee and Quadrophenia, stage shows like
Cabaret and Peter Pan and a host of television
programmes including Teletubbies as well as a
career in punk rock music. But she is in no doubt
about the significance of Calamity Jane:
"It's the highlight of my career."
Calamity Jane Interview - 23rd October 2002
In a week
when scripts for six musicals landed on her
doormat, Toyah Willcox cleared the deadwood and
settled on Calamity Jane.
Deadwood, Dakota, the windy Wild West town where
men are cowboys and women are wholesome,
clean-living gals, this musical story of
hard-riding, gun-toting Indian scout Calamity
Jane has always appealed to Toyah.
"I was a
tomboy as a child, so when I saw the film, I
identified with her, and I was never offended
that she ended up in a gingham dress and got
married. I thought Doris Day's understated
performance had great dignity.
the role suited me, I knew it was a part I could
play, and I knew that if I didn't play it now, I
would never play it. It's not just the
physicality involved but a matter of age, and the
more I left it, the more absurd it would
be," says the 44-year-old singer, actress
and TV presenter, who will be in York next week
for Calamity Jane's touring run at the Grand
down to timing and the timing is right for me to
do Calamity - and I've put six months into this
already, studying the music, the voice, doing
accent training and bull-whip training with a
national tour of Sammy Fain and Paul Francis
Webster's comedy musical opened in Northampton on
September 9 and will run for ten months, a long
commitment that Toyah wanted to explore to the
"I met up
with the producer and said `It's all right doing
something that's so associated with Doris Day
from the 1953 film, but how do we do Calamity
Jane for now?'. So I've had a lot of input into
it," says Toyah, who has decided to look
very dirty in the role whereas Doris Day was the
epitome of Hollywood studio glamour.
was written not only as a piece for Doris Day but
also as a celebration of women in the Second
World War, and it's a celebration of how far
women have come."
Jarman's punk movie Jubilee to Kate in Taming Of
The Shrew, from Trafford Tanzi to Sally Bowles in
Cabaret, from Peter Pan to Shakespeare's Puck,
Toyah has played wilful characters. Calamity Jane
is the next in line, a tough-talking prairie
woman who boasts she can bring a famous singing
star from Chicago to Dakota's Golden Garter
The musical may
be a fictionalised account but Calamity Jane was
for real: the story is based on the life of
Martha Jane Cannary (1848 or maybe 1852 to 1903),
who dressed, drank and fought like a man and was
prone to exaggerate her exploits.
an incredibly dangerous life, and because of that
atmosphere where men could snap at any time, the
music in this show bursts with energy as a pure
celebration of life," says Toyah, who
believes the musical has as much impact as
that incredible music, that wonderful love story
and it has topicality because in many ways women
have come full circle: where women had
compromised their role as housewives to go out to
work, now they have now reclaimed the right to
stay at home as a mother."
Toyah stand on the mother/work issue?
working girl myself, but life is about choice and
what women have reclaimed is the right to choose.
Having said that, I don't think life is that easy
but I have freedom in my life, which I'm grateful
for, and the past 25 years are a testament to me
making choices," says this Buddhist woman
who has presented both Songs Of Praise and The
Good Sex Guide Late.
right now is Calamity Jane - she even hopes for a
West End transfer - but unlike Calamity she has
no fixation with cowboys. "No, I loathed
John Wayne movies with a passion, because they
were so male dominated. I much preferred things
where women didn't have to dress up."
She is still
Toyah the tomboy after all these years.
Evening News: How the West was sung - 6th October 2002
the West was sung! A brand-new production of the
classic musical show Calamity Jane whip-cracks
its way to the Opera House, with Toyah Willcox
returning to the stage to play Calamity, a role
immortalised on the Hollywood screen by Doris
"A lot of
people ask me whether it's intimidating taking on
a role that's so famously associated with another
person, but it's not the first time I've done
it," observes Willcox, who has, for
instance, also played Sally Bowles in Cabaret and
Aladdin in last year's panto at Stockport's
Plaza. "It's certainly true, though, that
she made the songs and the story so famous and
it's a show that's looked upon with great
affection, so obviously, you don't want to mess
that up in any way.
singing in character," she adds. "I've
adapted my voice so that it's a bit lighter and
with perhaps ever so slightly ironic."
One thing she's
not looking forward to, though, is donning a
not going to happen if I have anything at all to
do with it. You're simply not going to catch me
in gingham," she laughs.
dates are part of a nationwide tour which is, in
Toyah's words, "bloody long! I've never
committed myself to anything for this length of
time before and it might end up being an even
longer commitment as they're already talking
about the show going into the West
something I thought about a lot, I have to admit.
But I also thought that I'm 44 now - which makes
me twice as old as everyone else in the company -
and if I don't play it now, it would start to
look a little ridiculous!"
musical career continues. There's a new album due
to be released any day now and she sounds
terribly enthusiastic when she talks about the
Here And Now tour, on which she shared the bill
with the likes of Belinda Carlisle, ABC and
Spandau Ballet and which came to the Manchester
Evening News Arena this April.
just a wonderful gig," she shrieks.
"What was so great about that whole tour was
that it put that music back in the context it was
written for, big arena gigs like that. It was so
exciting to step back into the arena experience
and see people enjoying themselves like that.
Hopefully, this show will have a similar effect
on the audience."
appeal is no mystery - 12th September 2002
Willcox is never one to shy away from a
challenge. In a career that has spanned 25 years
she has had several top 10 hits, wrestled live on
stage, starred opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and
has narrated one of the most successful
childrens programmes ever. Now she is set
to tackle the role of Calamity Jane, the Wild
West heroine made famous on the big screen by
fond memories of the film because I had seen it
as a child," said Toyah. "The film was
a vehicle for Doris Day, but the script was
written afterwards and is interesting because it
is so much darker. Doris Days performance
was wonderful but things have moved on and women
are perceived as much stronger than in the
started her acting career at the Old Rep Drama
School in her home town of Birmingham, has some
very definite ideas about the eponymous
Calamity to have surrendered her femininity to
survive in the environment that she lived
in," she said. "This is a small town in
middle America that could easily starve to death
and people who made it there were very tough.
Women are not that common so in order to feel
safe she has taken on this masculine
In this action
packed, rip-roaring show, Calamity puts her
reputation on the line when she promises to bring
a famous singing star all the way from Chicago to
Deadwoods Golden Garter Saloon.
"You must never lose sight that this is a
lovely fun love story with a man who has always
loved this woman but cant bear her
masculinity. Wild Bill Hickock expects women to
be in petticoats and smell nice but she never
to have the effect that the character hasnt
bathed for three months so when the change comes
it is stunning."
first notable acting role came in 1977 when
director Derek Jarman cast her as Mad in the punk
epic, Jubilee. Her latest role is one of her most
physical but she intends to take it in her
will need stamina and mental agility to get round
the dance steps but I have always been fit,
she said. "I love physical theatre that is
bombastic and robust. In Calamity Jane there
should be scenes where she is thrown through bar
windows because they treat her as if she were a
Toyah had a
successful pop career with hit singles including
Its A Mystery, I Want To Be Free and
Thunder In The Mountains. She is still making
music and releases a new album, Little Tears of
Love in November.
has a whole different feel," she said.
"It is stripped down and real. I work with a
three-piece band and it is quite
spent the 1990s adding another string to her bow
by becoming a television presenter of programmes
such as Heaven and Earth and Holiday. In recent
years Toyah has also been the narrator of
"I am best
friends with the creator Ann Wood and when I read
it I said This is the new Magic
still lives in the Midlands with her husband of
16 years musician Robert Fripp, has been
performing in pantomime since 1984, but still
gets nervous before a stage
physically sick. Dont come near me half and
hour before the show because I turn into a rabid
Toyah takes the Deadwood Stage - 12th September 2002
singer and TV presenter Toyah Willcox adds
another string to her bow when she plays the
title role in a new stage version of the hit
musical Calamity Jane.
It will be the
first time in 20 years that the spectacular show,
which premieres at Northamptons Derngate
next week, has toured the UK and the 44-year-old
star hopes it will transfer to the West End after
its ten-month run.
flattered when they sent me the script because
its quite a young role and I may never get
the chance to do it again," she said.
I was a big fan of the film version and
Doris Day was remarkably clever in the way she
took this character, who dressed like a man and
didnt bath, and made her attractive.
people dont realise Jane was a real person,
who lived in the 1860s and won medals for her
shooting, and this new interpretation of the
story gets closer to the reality of those times.
In those days gunfights and ambushes were the
norm and people didnt know if they would
live till the next day. For women, it must have
been frightening but also
only previous musical experience was playing
Sally Bowles in Cabaret at Londons Strand
Theatre. In a diverse acting career she has
tackled everything from panto to Shakespeare,
learning the ropes at the Birmingham Old
Repertory Theatre School and becoming, at the age
of 18, the youngest member of the National
On the big
screen, she appeared alongside Katharine Hepburn
in The Corn Is Green, played Monkey
in Quadrophenia and won a nomination for Best
Newcomer at the Evening Standard Awards for her
role as Miranda in Derek Jarmans film The
Tempest. On TV she starred opposite Sir Laurence
Olivier and Greta Scaachi in Granadas The
"I was always told to diversify with the
roles I accept so you dont get pigeonholed.
I feel very privileged to have worked with such
great names as Hepburn and Olivier, who came from
that lost generation of stars who were so
extraordinary in their eloquence. I wasnt
looking to learn from them I just enjoyed
being in their company, listening to all these
stories about such legends as James Dean, Marilyn
Monroe and Vivien Leigh."
In more recent
years Toyah has carved out a career in
television, from appear-ing in Kavanagh QC to
being guest presenter on The Heaven And Earth
Show, Fasten Your Seatbelts and Holiday. She also
presented an epic series on alternative medicine
for the Discovery Channel and on childrens
TV she voiced Brum and the Teletubbies and played
the title role in two series of the BBCs
Barmy Aunt Boomerang!
very close to Ann Wood, the creator of
Teletubbies and did just five minutes of
narration on the first episode. But its
probably the most important five minutes of my
career as within three months it was a worldwide
Aunt Boomerang! is about a ghost from Australia
living with a boy in Glasgow it was all
good experience and great fun to do."
Guardian: It's A Mystery! - Toyah tight lipped
over new role - 9th September 2002
pop star Toyah Willcox is busy rehearsing for a
rip-roaring roller coaster production of Calamity
spending the past 25 years either on stage, in a
television studio or recording hit songs, she
will feel at home at Manchester's Opera House and
The Regent Theatre in Stoke.
The musical is
loosely based on the life of Martha Jane Cannary,
who was born in 1852 in Missouri, and stars Toyah
in the title role.
such as Windy City, The Deadwood Stage and the
Oscar winning Secret Love, Calamity Jane is a
typical western set in Deadwood, Dakota
Territory, where men are cowboys and women are
Toyah will be
stepping into Calamity's shoes, previously worn
by Carry On star Barbara Windsor and film star
Doris Day, but anyone who is expecting a
production like the 1953 film is in for a
"Calamity Jane is a great production - it's
buzzing and very lively.
people who will be coming to see the musical will
be expecting something schmaltzy because they'll
have seen the film starring Doris Day.
this version many times and I remember watching
the film as a child. But we've done something
different with the story, which is quite
Toyah has been
performing on stage for the past 25 years in
productions such as Cabaret and Peter Pan as well
as Shakespeare classics.
Her role in
Calamity Jane is as a hard-riding, gun-toting and
boastful woman who is involved in a love-triangle
with the dashing Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin and
fast drawing Wild Bill Hickock.
The musical is
a fast-paced, action-packed story of gunfights,
passion and saloon life and is set in the highly
charged atmosphere of the Wild West in
cast, which has been rehearsing for the past four
weeks, will be appearing in Stoke between
September 30 and October 5 and in Manchester
between October 7 and 12.
are hoping the 10-month national tour will end up
in London's West End next summer.
takes aim at a career on the stage - 25th August 2002
only a select band of celebrities who are known
by one name. Among them is Madonna, Jagger, Bowie
. . . and Toyah writes Beverly
burst on to the scene with violently dyed red
hair and lashings of thick make-up telling us how
"It's A Mystery". Almost 25 years
later, that same "wild child" can be
seen presenting a variety of mainstream
television shows ranging from religion to travel,
and is now embarking on a musical tour playing a
lead role originally made famous by -- Doris
But did she
ever envisage, all those years ago as a young
punk, that her career would take such a diverse
"When I started I never even imagined living
when I reached my 30th birthday I had to think
'Now what am I going to do?'."
Despite a lack
of formal planning, Toyah Wilcox's career has
gone from strength to strength, with the singer,
turned presenter, turned actress remaining as
enthusiastic as ever.
But are there
any offers of work that she would turn
never want to do a sex scene," she insists.
"I am very, very physically shy. With
presenting, I have avoided anything to do with
shopping and babies. I do not like shopping and
have not had any babies." She adds: "I
only take jobs I want. That keeps me really
enthusiastic. There is nothing worse than having
a big expensive show starring a leading actress
who resents being there.
"It is the
presenting which has kept me in touch with
people. It has allowed me to be slightly
journalistic while looking at the
it came about as a remarkable mistake. My agent
told me I had been approached to present an
entertainment programme, but added that he had
told them it was the sort of thing I would want
to do. So I did it!"
first came to prominence as a singer, she began
her career at the National Theatre at the age of
18. She formed a band with the people she was
working with and spent five years touring pubs
and working men's clubs before enjoying her first
hit record, It's A Mystery.
"The image was nothing new for me. I was
wearing black and had pink hair when I was 14.
When punk arrived on the scene I felt there was
something finally out there for me.
obsessed with becoming famous. It was like a bad
habit. My ambitions have changed now. I am more
realistic these days, but I love acting and would
love to be on television or in film, or do more
work on stage."
An on stage is
where you will find Toyah for the next year or
so, starring in Calamity Jane, a part made famous
by Doris Day.
"The character did exist, living around the
1860s, and yes, she did have to dress and talk
like a man.
"I do like
the music. When you look at the Doris Day film it
is apparent that it was written for her as a
vehicle and represented women of the 1950s. We
are looking at representing these women in the
women were pioneers, able to claim their own
land. They would ride out on their own into the
wilderness to claim the land."
on September 9 and come to Manchester in October.
Rehearsals have just started, which I thoroughly
"I will be
touring with Calamity Jane for 10 months and then
there are rumours that it will go to West End.
There is even the possibility of being invited
for a short run on Broadway. I have had to leave
the next year free, just in case."
Journal: Toyah has a whip hand onstage -
of a certain age (over 35), Toyah Willcox will
always be the high priestess of punk, the woman
with the brightly coloured hair and startling
make-up who used to lisp her way through 'It's A
Mystery' and boasted of sleeping in a
But like the
rest of us, Ms Willcox has grown up. Now in her
40s she can be heard doing voice overs for hugely
popular children's programmes Teletubbies and
Brum, presenting the odd episode of Songs Of
Praise and come September, rip-roaring her way
around Britain as Calamity Jane.
It's hard to
imagine Toyah - the woman who shocked and
delighted the public in equal measures in the
1980s by swearing and spitting, who admitted to
drinking heavily since the age of nine and who,
in the film Jubilee, throttled a man while having
sex with him - taking on the role made famous by
sugary-sweet Doris Day.
say you should never judge a book by its cover,
and this seems to be the case with Ms
sporting a sleek platinum blonde barnet ("I
leave having multi-coloured hair to the younger
generation"), a teetotaller, keep-fit addict
and passionate anti-smoker, Toyah, it seems, has
been a lifelong fan of Calamity.
So when five
stage scripts dropped through the door of her
London flat last Winter - including what Toyah
describes as the "most fantastic country and
western musical which I know is going to be big
but wasn't right for me" - she had no
hesitation in signing up for the Deadwood
Jane opens at Northampton's Derngate Theatre on
September 9, it will be the first time it has
been staged professionally for 20 years. But
Toyah fully expects it to put "bums on
seats" as it moves onto Oxford, Sunderland
from September 23, and then 18 other major cities
There will be
few people who don't know at least one of the
songs made famous in the 1950s play and film -
'The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away!)', 'Windy
City', 'The Black Hills Of Dakota' and 'Secret
Love', which Doris Day took to the top of the
charts for a staggering 54 weeks.
Ms Day will be
a hard act to follow. For many she is, and will
always remain, Calamity Jane, the Wild West's
most famous, well-meaning but disaster-prone
heroine who dresses like a man, totes a gun and
drives the Deadwood City stagecoach.
Toyah is with an impressive list of stage and
film credits to her name, isn't she worried about
taking on such a high profile role? "Not at
all", she says with her familiar lisp.
"I didn't become an actress to say no to
certain areas of work. It will be a challenge,
but one I believe everyone is going to meet head
know a lot of people remember Doris Day, but
remember, it's not just a revival. There is an
audience out there who won't have seen Calamity
aren't trying to emulate the film. I watched the
movie a few weeks ago and I thought 'no, it is
such a vehicle for Doris Day'. But we are doing a
play and we are doing ot from as much of an
historical perspective as we can.
Jane was a real person so there is a true,
historical element to it. It is a funny story
about a woman who did exist in the
Toyah says she
was attracted to Calamity Jane because "it
is a strong female role".
has been another carrot - if the musical is well
received in the provinces, there is the
possibility of a West End, or even a Broadway,
run. And Toyah fully intends to be there taking
boggles at how they will react stateside to an
English production of an all-American musical
starring an ex-punk star.
there is a "very strong possibility" of
Calamity crossing the Atlantic. And the reason is
the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Broadway has been encountering serious
problems following September 11," she says.
"I think there will be huge novelty value in
an English production of Calamity Jane opening
is also the nostalgia factor. People are looking
to the past - and I am one of them."
already been working hard on perfecting her bull
whip technique. She has been trained by an
adviser to the James Bond films, who she says
"told me I had picked it up quicker than
anyone he had worked with".
It will be a
useful skill to add to her CV should anyone be
looking to cast a lion tamer or arch villainess
Not that Toyah
relies just on singing and acting to keep her
head above water. Married to the American rock
musician Robert Fripp, she has invested in
property in London, the Midlands and the
She says fear
of poverty drives her to work hard for financial
success. It is all a long way from the days of
orange make-up and blue hair when she told
everyone "I Wanna Be Free".
Has any of the
old Toyah survived? Some of the old fighting
spirit certainly has. In May this year she hit
the headlines when she joined villagers in
Throckmorton, Worcestershire, to protest at
Government plans to site an asylum centre
It is at this
point the interview hits a rocky patch. She has,
she states forcefully, been "completely
misquoted" over the affair in the Press, and
launches into a tirade about journalists who
can't be bothered to check their facts.
She wants it
known that she does not live in Throckmorton,
although her parents' own a house a mile away and
she has a home in a nearby market town. And, she
says hotly, she is not a racist.
there because the site the Government has chosen
is totally unsuitable. They want to build an
asylum centre on a disused airbase and I felt
compelled to protest not only because the area
can't sustain such a huge influx of people but
because the proposed site lies just yards from
where 130,000 foot-and-mouth infected carcasses
have been buried."
Toyah says she is looking forward to coming to
Sunderland and hopes her visit will prove more
auspicious than in April when she entertained the
pre-match crowds at the Stadium of Light, and
witnessed the home side's 1-0 defeat by