Imelda Staunton: ‘Enid and Tubby are ordinary people doing extraordinary things in That Day We Sang’

Imelda Staunton chats about co-starring in Victoria Wood’s special Christmas telly musical That Day We Sang with Michael Ball…

Described by comedian Victoria Wood as ‘Moulin Rouge with slippers’ this uplifting BBC2 Boxing Day special tells the tale of a late-blooming love between personal assistant Enid (Imelda) and insurance salesman Tubby (Michael Ball) in 1960s Manchester. Tubby and Enid are reunited 40 years after they sung in a choir together in 1929, but as they begin to fall in love, a secret threatens their happiness.

What can you tell us about the main characters Enid and Tubby, played by yourself and Michael Ball, in Victoria’s new musical drama That Day We Sang?
“Well Enid is a PA in 1969, single with a beige, dull life. The drama starts out when she goes to the reunion of her childhood choir and meets up with Tubby. She likes him and I don’t think she knows why.”

Do sparks fly instantly?
“At first Enid doesn’t particularly remember who Tubby is! There were 200 children in the choir. But the reunion starts her rediscovery of him. She begins to remember when she was in the choir it was joyous to sing, but that joy has gone from her life now. Then, as they get to know each other, the sparks come.”

It’s a love story for more mature characters?
“Stories do happen to people over 25! Enid and Tubby are in their fifties in the 1960s, they’re not teenagers. They think life has passed them by – until now. And they grab it! There are these lovely pockets of fantasy, which hint at what Enid could have with Tubby.”

What can you tell us about these colourful fantasy sequences?

“Michael and I have lots of great looks, including Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. One of my favourite scenes is when Enid goes from her kitchen to the rooftop in West Side Story. It’s great fun to be able to do something like this, something you’d never be cast as in real life. That’s what fantasies are, aren’t they? Things that you never think you’ll ever do.

“What I like about this is we both sing as Tubby and Enid. Victoria’s music and words has the characters singing their thoughts in the fantasies.”

Was that part of the appeal of this project?
“I hadn’t seen anything like this on telly, and it gave me a chance to sing and do proper acting as well. Enid is quite plain, but yet she has all the jazzy moves too, so it was glorious to do it on every level.”

Did it help that you’d worked on stage with Michael Ball before, in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?

“Because of doing that one show Michael and I have a wonderful shorthand and mutual respect. We could give notes to each other, which was healthy and valuable – no one takes offence!”

What do you enjoy about Victoria’s work?
“She observes people so well and knows her own people. Victoria doesn’t write for Parisian women, she writes for people whose lives she understands. That Day We Sang is different and it’s got a bit of everything – humour, music, pathos, reality and fantasy.”

What makes this an uplifting piece of Christmas telly?
“It’s glorious because Enid and Tubby are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and that speaks to all of us. We may think ‘I wish I could be Ginger Rogers’ but, of course, we can in our minds. That Day We Sang makes those dreams literally come true, which is rather beautiful.”