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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK


Pajama Game pillowtalk

Playing the Game: Anita Dobson and John Hegley

A revival of the Doris Day musical The Pajama Game opens in London this week with an eclectic line-up both on stage and behind the scenes.

Directed by Four Weddings and a Funeral favourite Simon Callow, the production stars Men Behaving Badly actress Leslie Ash, former EastEnders star Anita Dobson and comic poet John Hegley.

[ image: Doris Day: Star of the 1957 Hollywood movie]
Doris Day: Star of the 1957 Hollywood movie
Leading abstract painter Frank Stella has designed the set, saxophonist John Harle is the music supervisor, while David Bintley - artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, is in charge of the choreography.

The musical, about a strike in a pyjama factory, opened on Broadway in 1954 and made a star of Shirley MacLaine. Doris Day took the role in the 1957 Hollywood movie.

The Adler and Ross-penned show, which includes the songs Steam Heat and Hey There (You With The Stars In Your Eyes) has not been staged in London since 1956.

Max Wall role

The role of Vernon Hines, the factory's Time and Motion Study Man, was played by comedy legend Max Wall in the original West End production.

[ image: Poet in motion: John Hegley]
Poet in motion: John Hegley
John Hegley, a man with a devoted following on the live comedy circuit, plays the part 43 years on.

Hegley saw the movie as a child and remembers liking Steam Heat, but has no plans to watch it until he finishes his run.

"I'd love to see how other people have tackled the part when I've finished because I've become very fond of the thing," he says.

"A lot of people associate Max Wall with the role. I think it's alright to walk in Max Wall's footsteps, but not with Max Wall's footsteps, if you see what I mean.

"I believe there is some footage of Max from the original show and it would be fascinating to see it."

[ image: Third time lucky: Leading lady Leslie Ash]
Third time lucky: Leading lady Leslie Ash
Hegley is starring alongside his third leading lady.

Shooting Stars regular Ulrika Jonsson played Babe Williams in the current production's first run at Birmingham's Repertory Theatre earlier this year.

Canadian actress Camilla Scott, who played Inspector Margaret Thatcher in TV hit Due South, took on the role in Toronto. Now Leslie Ash is making her debut in a West End musical.

Despite favourable reviews, Jonsson pulled out because the part was too much of a strain vocally.

[ image: Pajama Game director Simon Callow]
Pajama Game director Simon Callow
Callow has been working on the production for several years. Hegley says his dedication is partly down to the show's political angle.

"In its time it was quite radical to have a musical about union politics rather than just a love story - though it's got that too," he says.

The Pajama Game has represented a massive change in direction for Hegley, who has had to desert his legions of fans for his first stage musical.

"It's been very good for me to be in another world - to see another aspect of theatricality and to be in an ensemble," says Hegley. "Before I went on I really didn't know whether it would work. "

The Pajama Game is now running at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London.

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