Bonds, emotion and families as Blood Brothers returns to Norwich

X Factor finalist Niki Evans has won critical acclaim for her acting as well as her singing. Now she's in Norwich in Blood Brothers alongside Wet Wet Wet frontman turned West End star Marti Pellow. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Niki Evans knows 'celebrities-turned-stage-stars' often have it hard when it comes to proving their acting abilities but she is adamant she wouldn't step out on stage if she couldn't hold her own.

Niki, 39, who made it through to the semi-finals of ITV talent show The X Factor back in 2007, even admits she she wouldn't mind returning to her old job in the kitchens of a high school if her theatre work came to an end.

'If I had to go back and work as a catering manager again then I would go quite happily,' she says. 'I did that job for 10 years and I still miss it every day. I miss having all those women around – and having a laugh with them.'

And she adds: 'Sometimes, even now, I do stand on stage when the music starts and ask myself: 'How on earth did I get here?'

'Here,' at the moment means playing one of the lead roles in Blood Brothers — a part that will bring her to Norwich Theatre Royal when the show opens on November 12.

The show — which features such memorable songs as Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It's Not True — recently celebrated a record breaking 24 years in London. However after its impressive West End run, the musical closes in the capital tomorrow night.

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That means if you want to see it live on you now have to catch the touring production — which is handy as it arrives back on our doorstep next week.

Niki plays Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, who is deserted by her husband and left to provide for seven hungry children.

Written by Willy Russell and produced by Bill Kenwright, the story reveals how 'Mrs J' takes a job as a house maid to make ends meet before discovering herself to be pregnant with twins. In a moment of panic and desperation, she then enters a secret pact with her employer, which leads to a devastating climax.

'I know there are people out there who would kill to play Mrs J — people who have been trying to make it since about the age of six,' she says.

'When I first started doing this I knew that just because I had been in reality TV didn't necessary mean I would be able to do it.

'I'd never trained at all and I had been to see celebrities in things and sometimes they were a bit dodgy. So I went into this thinking: 'I'll have to see if I can do it – and if I can't, then I won't.''

Niki will be appearing alongside Marti Pellow in the hit musical version of the tale.

The Wet Wet Wet frontman turned West End star has joined the cast again for a limited stint in the role of narrator.

It is his third visit to the Theatre Royal in recent years following high profile roles in touring productions of musical productions of The Witches of Eastwick and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.

'Marti is great — he's a really, really funny guy and he is wonderful on stage. He always gives 110%,' said Niki of the Scottish singer.

She adds: 'Wet Wet Wet wasn't really my cup of tea when I was younger but he has an incredible voice and it is fabulous to be able to work with him.'

Like Marti, Niki also launched her singing career back in the 1980s.

'I was with Stock, Aitken and Waterman from about 1989 to 1991,' says Niki, who was just 13 when she found herself working with the likes of Sonia, Lonnie Gordon and Big Fun. But I did backing vocals back then.'

Having a family and the success of her job in catering, however, meant her career in music took a back seat, and it was not until she was spotted by the X Factor judges that she began to seriously consider moving back into performance full time.

'The X Factor was very good for me,' she says. 'I would never have thought about trying for West End shows before then.'

Niki, who was last on stage in Norwich in 2011, when she played unlucky in love manicurist Paulette, in Legally Blonde, has also performed at the Theatre Royal in 42nd Street.

'I love Norwich – I think it's great. I love the centre of the city with all the old buildings.'

Now, she is looking forward to her return with Blood Brothers.

'I am enjoying playing Mrs J so much. It was my first big role and my most recent – it is also my favourite,' she admits. 'It is such a great part to play.

'And I love Blood Brothers, too, because, in some ways, it is more of a play than a musical – I only have three songs to sing – and it has a storyline that I think really resonates with the audience.'

Moving from a talent show and backing singer background into theatre and musicals has required a lot of work. Niki is the first to admit she knew little about the processes of rehearsals, learning scripts and working within a production team.

'I did feel intimidated the first few times I went into rehearsals and felt that everyone was watching me,' says Niki. 'I did have to learn very, very quickly but I also knew that I would only see it through if I could get it right.'

And, clearly, she has.

'I'm not an actor but I can sing, and luckily Bill Kenwright saw something in me that made him think I could do this,' she adds. 'Sometimes it is all about having someone who believes in you.'

? Blood Brothers , Norwich Theatre Royal, November 12-17, �34-�6.50, 01603 630000,