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'It's going very well. Audiences seem to love it'

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 09, 2014

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Within moments I feel like I've known Gwen Taylor for years. She almost bursts on to the phone, talking nineteen-to-the-dozen about the afternoon she's just spent going round Windsor Castle.

"I've had a lovely time," she enthuses. "I've been here before but I've never been round the castle."

It's a rare break for Gwen on the 18-week tour of Last of the Duty Free, the stage sequel to the hit 1980s ITV sitcom Duty Free, which comes to Bath Theatre Royal from May 12 to May 17.

But if she's tired, there's no sign of it in her voice as she chatters on about the show.

"It's going very well," she says. "The audiences seem to love it. We get a lot of people who remember the series and who are very loyal to it so they come into something which they know they will enjoy.

"We are all 30 years older, but it's the same sort of formula as before - naughty man tries it on etc. It's very enjoyable from that point of view.

"I am looking forward to Bath. I love Bath. It's a great theatre to play. There's something nice about those old theatres. You feel a sense of history."

Gwen is reprising her role as Amy, and she is joined on stage by two other members of the original cast - Keith Barron as David, and Neil Stacy as Robert.

"It's fantastic to work with them again," says Gwen. "We haven't been in touch on a regular basis apart from the odd Christmas card so it's great that we are working together again.

"The only thing missing is Joanna Van Gyseghem who played Linda, but we have Carol Royle who has fitted in wonderfully.

And Gwen has enjoyed slipping back into the role of Amy.

"She's great fun to play," she said. "There's definitely some similarities between Amy and I because Eric Chappell and Jean Warr who wrote the original series put our characteristics into the characters as they got to know us. But Amy always says the things you are thinking and would like to say but never do!

"Eric has kept the relationships more or less the same, but I think that some of the innocence has been knocked off Amy. Now she's expecting the worst. Last year I decided I was too old and tired and talented to tour any more but when this came along we couldn't say no because it's such fun getting back into the old characters."

But while many elements of the show might be the same, Gwen says that performing the show on stage is very different from on-screen.

"It's enormously different," she says. "It's quite difficult in a way.

"It was on ITV so we had a formula where the first part ended with a gag, and the second with a big laugh. Now we have two hours and to keep up the comic timing is a different kettle of fish.

"And we have an audience now. Of course with a sitcom you have an audience too but it's quite different. Then the camera is in control and you can do bits again if the audience laugh too loud or something, but on stage it's you and you have to let the audience laugh and sometimes that's quite difficult to remember.

"I love having the audience there though. You get the appreciation which is lovely. When you do TV it can be months between filming and people seeing it, but in the theatre it's instant."

And Gwen has hopes that the Last of the Duty Free could prompt a new TV series of the show.

"It would be wonderful if they decided to bring it back," she said. "But then everything's in HD now isn't it so you would see every wrinkle and every spot!"

Duty Free is far from Gwen's only television credit. One of Britain's leading actresses, she r enjoyed a dramatic exit from Coronation Street where she played Anne, the mother of Frank Foster in 47 episodes. Among her numerous other television credits are playing Peggy Armstrong in 98 episodes of Heartbeat, appearing in the title role in three series of Barbara, and playing Rita Simcock in two series of the Bafta-nominated A Bit of a Do.

So what's the secret to her success?

"If I knew that I'd bottle it and keep it forever," she laughs. "It's just the luck of being given wonderful parts by wonderful people."

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