JAN HARTLEY believes the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music is a role she was born to play.
“I was about six years old when my father took me to see it in the cinema and it can’t have been out that long,” she explains. “I became completely obsessed, so much so that I nagged him to take me all the time, so I must have seen it at least 20 times!
“My Christmas present that year was the vinyl album of the soundtrack and that cover must have been so worn out, I played it all the time and learned every song.
“I used to run up and down the street singing The Hills Are Alive all the time. And my mother told me that my next-door neighbour came out once and said: ‘I hear the flipping hills are still flipping well alive!’”
Jan, who has also starred as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and Maria in West Side Story, says it was The Sound of Music that started her love of musicals. Did it encourage her to pursue a career as an actress and singer? “I really think so, yes,” she says. “Julie Andrews had an enormous amount to do with it, she’s responsible!”
Jan has already played the central role of Maria before, in the mid-1980s; she says: “I realised it’s one of those shows that you love being in because you love performing the music. There are shows that you’re in and you think, ‘Yeah, this is nice’, and the audiences love it, but this is something that’s so fantastic.
“Every single tune is amazing, we all know them all, they’re all memorable. My favourite? I think possibly Something Good, the love duet. It’s a very difficult one to choose really. Raindrops on Roses is a classic and I get to sing it in the stage version with Maria, which is terrific.
“In the film she doesn’t, but a few things have changed around for the stage, and anyway, they altered things for the film that weren’t true for the stage show.”
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the much-loved musical Julie Andrews film, this new stage production is based on Baroness Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography, telling the story of the world-famous singing family, from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness, to their thrilling escape to freedom as their beloved Austria becomes part of the Third Reich at the start of the Second World War.
Jan is relishing her role as the Mother Abbess, and explains: “I think the fact that she’s such an experienced woman: she’s developed a calmness in her life and a maturity in the way she looks at everything in life.
“It’s a great qualification for being Mother Abbess, because obviously you have to look after all the nuns, look after their pastoral care, and make sure that if they have any problems, worries or issues, you try and put everything in perspective for everybody. I think that’s how it is.
“Interestingly enough, the calmness of the role actually helps to keep me calm on stage, because you naturally think: ‘OK, just take everything as it comes’. There’s a kindness and surety, and the maturity that comes with age.
“I actually think Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife is a great role-model for the part, more so than the Mother in the film, I would say.
“She’s just that little bit kinder and a little bit more understanding, which is what I’m trying to do. It’s all about being firm but fair and kind.”