Brian Beacom

CAN you imagine the challenge that comes with playing Cilla?

The Scouse screamer first arrived in the slipstream of the Beatles in 1963 and had a run of hits including Anyone Who Had A Heart and Step Inside Love.

But Cilla was never going to become a faded pop star. Her irrepressible personality and a rooted working class demeanour (despite being Tory) managed to see Cilla survive in an industry that bins older female performers.

Now, her life has been turned into a stage show. Written by Jeff Pope, who created the successful 2014 TV series starring Sheridan Smith, the theatre play rewinds on the star’s personal and public life.

Kara Lily Hayworth certainly has the belter of a voice required to play the Liverpudlian, and natural titian hair.

But the Buckinghamshire-born actor she knows it’s a tall order.

“She’s an icon,” says Kara. “She’s a tough person to try and take on. And with the TV show being such a success it’s really a double whammy for anyone trying to play her.

“But I’m loving the whole experience.”

Did she know much of Cilla prior to queueing up to audition?

“To be honest, when I was growing up my Cilla was Blind Date Cilla.

“Then when I listened to her songs, I was a little surprised I knew quite a few of them.”

Kara has since been studying up on Cilla, watching interviews, newsreels, appearances on pop shows.

“I picked up little mannerisms and things about her accent. And while my singing voice doesn’t sound exactly like hers, her son Robert, who produces the show, said he didn’t want a copycat, he wanted someone who captured her spirit, which I hope I have done.”

Kara has discovered Cilla to be tough and ambitious. “She wasn’t going to let anyone, even Bobby, stand in her way. She and a gentle side, she was loving and caring, but she really had a feisty side.”

The play begins when Cilla is in her early twenties, a coatcheck girl in The Cavern Club, when she first meets Bobby ( he husband-to-be) and she is friends with the Beatles.

“It goes on to chronicle her signing with Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager and looks are her early successes. It ends when Brian dies.”

Kara once met Cilla when out shopping with her mum and asked for her autograph. Then when watching the TV series, she loved the character. “Not having any idea that I would one day play Cilla. And Sheridan was brilliant in it. But what it means is the TV success has spun over to us.”

Cilla had to have a sharp elbows to get on in the business which, in the Sixties, was essentially a shark pool. Does that apply to women in the business today?

“Probably,” she says, smiling. “But maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to get here because my elbows aren’t sharp enough.”

Kara had had huge success as a child performer, starring in Annie in a national tour alongside Paul O’Grady.

“Paul was so nice and he came to the press night for Cilla. He was really good friends with her and he said he cried all the way through it.”

But the Annie success gave Kara a very wrong impression about how hard it is to be a success in the business.

“Annie was my first professional audition and I landed the gig,” she says. “I thought ‘This is easy. You just go in a room and you get it.’

“But later on you realise that’s not how it works at all.”

When she left drama school in 2010 the doors of opportunity seemed locked.

“But my family have been so supportive and my husband has been amazing.”

She adds; “He’s been to see this show thirteen times now. He must be a glutton for punishment.”

Kara’s eggs aren’t all in one basket. She also appears in a girl group Zyrah Rose.

“We entered Britains’ Got talent in 2016 and reached the semi-finals and were once signed to a major record label.”

Now, she Cilla at least until May. And there is talk of the show going into the West End.

“I’ve realised the business is all about being in the moment,” she says, smiling. “And I’m loving this moment for all it’s worth.”

ANDREW Lancel stars as Brian Epstein in Cilla.

The former Coronation Street star doesn’t find it too much of a stretch, given he’s played Epstein three times before in plays, including a stint in the West End.

“He’s great to play. We made a documentary on Brian last year for Radio 2 and Brian was fascinating character.

“He was real mates with the Beatles, and Paul reckoned Brian was the fifth Beatle. That says everything to me.”

Brian Epstein was a troubled character. He got caught up in drugs, but Andrew says he was dedicated to his performers, including Cilla.

“Yes, right up until the end when he died of an accidental overdose aged thirty-two.”

He had Cilla’s new contract waiting to be signed.”

“But the universal thing I’ve discovered about him was he was funny and he was charming.

*Cilla The Musical, the King’s Theatre, until Saturday.