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Coro star Rula’s best exotic kiwi adventure

The star fell in love with NZ 40 years ago and is bringing new joy to our shores

Two of Rula Lenska’s greatest passions in life are theatre and travel, so when the chance arose to combine them by performing in a play in New Zealand, the veteran British actress couldn’t say “Yes, please!” fast enough.

Rula’s delighted to be coming here with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Live on Stage, which is based on the book that was also made into a hit movie. She’s been appearing as Madge Hardcastle (played by Celia Imrie in the film) in a touring production of Marigold in the UK, and was thrilled to be asked to reprise the role in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

“I was raring to go,” says Rula, 76, talking to the Weekly from her home in the UK. “I was last in New Zealand in 1984, doing a play called Same Time Next Year with my then-husband Dennis Waterman. We travelled all over the North and South Island, and had the most magical time. I’m so excited about coming back.”

It may have been 40 years ago, but Rula – best known to many Kiwis as Claudia Colby on Coronation Street – still has fond memories of her time here with Minder star Dennis. The pair, who later divorced, managed to do lots of touristy things when they weren’t performing, including whale watching in Kaikōura.

Rula’s all aboard the rickshaw and is heading our way!

“I absolutely loved the whale watching and hope I can do that again,” she enthuses. “And I’d love to go back to Rotorua. We went to Tarawera, which I found fascinating. You have the most stunningly beautiful country.”

Rula’s also keen to have new experiences while she’s here.

“I’m up for anything – any kind of adventure, I’m your girl. I’ve always had a wanderlust and I love travelling. The more adventurous, the better. I recently had two weeks on safari in Zambia. I’ve been to the Galápagos Islands, Tibet, China, Nepal, Africa, India… But whale watching off the Kaikōura coast is up there as one of the most exciting things I’ve done.”

She’s always been adventurous, even tackling things that terrify her.

Marigold has the audience “up on their feet cheering”.

“I had a fear of flying and somebody suggested I should train as a hot air balloon pilot to lose my fear of flying in an aeroplane. In a balloon, you have no control whatsoever – you’re basically in a laundry basket. It sounded mad, but I passed the exams and I became a hot air balloon pilot. And it did work!”

It seems fitting that in Marigold, Rula plays a character who spontaneously heads off to India with a bunch of elderly Brits trying to find new meaning in life.

“It’s the most delicious piece of theatre,” she tells. “It’s so feel-good. At every performance, we get people up on their feet at the end cheering and that is pure delight for any performer.”

Rula, who has also appeared in the stage version of Calendar Girls, got her big acting break in 1976 in the TV series Rock Follies, a groundbreaking musical drama about a female rock band. Since then, she’s acted in a wide range of shows from EastEnders to One Foot in the Grave. She first showed up in Coro as hairdresser Claudia, a frenemy of Audrey Roberts (played by Sue Nicholls) in 2009 and has had a recurring role ever since. In her most recent stint in the show, from 2018-2020, she had a relationship with Ken Barlow (William Roache).

As Claudia in Coro with soap veteran William.

There are no plans at the moment for Claudia to return to Coro, but Rula’s hopeful the producers will bring her back one day.

“It’s great fun being on Coronation Street, but it’s also hard work because you don’t have time for rehearsals. Production is very fast on a soap opera – there are four or five episodes being filmed at the same time.”

One of Rula’s favourite things to perform is a one-woman show called From Dzików to Willesden Green, which is based on the life of her mother, Elizabeth “Bisia” Carroll. Born Countess Elzbieta Tyszkiewicz in Poland, Bisia fled her home country in 1939 and travelled across Romania to the then Yugoslavia, where she was captured by the Germans and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp.

“She survived the camp and came to England as a refugee in 1946,” shares Rula, who is also officially a countess but doesn’t use her title. “It’s an amazing story. I’d love to bring it to New Zealand one day.”

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Live on Stage is on in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch from April 23. Click here for Auckland tickets. For Christchurch tickets, click here.

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