BIRDS of a Feather stars Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke have been friends since primary school days and now they are back again living cheek by jowl on tour together.
They have been re-united with co-star Lesley Joseph in a stage version of the long-running sitcom that finished in 1998.
Did Robson jump at the chance of stepping back into the shoes of Tracey Stubbs or did she have to be persuaded? “All three of us said we would do it as long as the script was good and when we got it at first it wasn’t up to standard, so we said no,” she reports. “It looked as if someone had sat down and watched every episode and cut and pasted all the jokes together. We asked for our original writers to be taken on. We wanted it to be about our characters 14 years later showing where they are now and what’s happened to them. The second script arrived and we read it and we were all excited about it.”
The basis for the sitcom was that sisters Tracey and Sharon were brought together when their husbands were sent to prison for armed robbery, moving in next door to Dorien, Lesley Joseph’s character, a married woman with a penchant for younger men. So are the menfolk now out of jail and back on the scene?
“They are mentioned a lot in the show, there’s a lot of talk about our partners and Dorian’s ex but you don’t actually see them.”
One male that does feature in the show is Tracey’s teenage son, Travis. “In the final episode I gave birth in a barn in Ireland and in the stage play the role is being shared by Pauline and my sons, Charlie and Louis.”
It must be a strange situation for mother and son going on the road together, who has found it the most embarrassing? “Both of us, really. It has been funny, but we’ve got the boys well trained - having a coffee ready for us when we come off stage. For them, they’ve got their mums to look after them on tour.
“Louis said to me it was great to see us all talking about the old days. He’s heard a lot about Birds of a Feather but to see the chemistry and history between the three of us was an eye-opener to him.”
How did Robson feel when the series was axed after nearly 10 years? “We were really sad when the series stopped, not just for us. We had worked with the same crew for so long — the same make-up artist and wardrobe mistrees all the time — and knew their families. Normally after the end of each recording we would go to the green room and have a drink together but that night we all just went home, it was just too distressing. But we’ve kept in touch and some of the old crew have been coming to the live show.”
At the start of the year when the touring show was announced there was much coverage of the dramatic weight loss of the two actors. Robson lost three stone on the LighterLife programme – but has she managed to stay trim? “Yes, we have all been helping each other,” she says. “Even Lesley’s lost two stone although she was small to begin with.
“She does it with exercise, she walks everywhere, whereas Pauline and I just watch what we eat.”
Robson is talking on the phone after one of her regular appearances on TV chat show Loose Women which she has been able to fit in because this week the show is in High Wycombe in commuting distance of London. She’s looking forward to Sheffield. “It’s much harder work when you stay at home, not just the travelling but you still have to do everything at home, coping with GCSE exams and doing the washing.”
Louis is her middle child, with daughter Bobbie 16, while the eldest, Lauren, has just made Robson a grandmother. “I’m looking forward to being a proper grandmother which I haven’t had the chance to be but we’re all going on holiday together after the tour ends in the summer.”
Such has been the audience reaction, there are plans to extend the tour next year.
Birds of a Feather is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.