EastEnders star James Alexandrou talks New Wolsey-bound thriller

He’s knocked up Sonia Jackson and knocked over her fianc�; now he’s helping to knock down our perceptions of what makes, well, us in the new thriller DNA. Entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to actor James Alexandrou

This play’s going to be slightly less good because of you,” laughs James after I pull him out of rehearsals. Strangely, he’s not the first ex-EastEnders’ actor to say that to me.

Perhaps I can blackmail my way out of trouble by threatening to tell his former co-star Natalie Cassidy he didn’t vote for her during her stint on Celebrity Big Brother?

“I did see it. I didn’t actually [vote] because I didn’t know [she was up for eviction]; I missed a few days before that. When all’s said and done I think she was probably happy she was out. I think it’s a load of rubbish and she knows I think that as well,” he laughs.

“We had a chat before she went in; she’s a really good mate but she knows what I think about that TV show; but then again I watch it so I’m a hypocrite. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and it was quite fun watching my mate on it.”

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On the subject of guilt...

I’m disrupting rehearsals to talk about Dennis Kelly’s compelling thriller DNA, which comes to the New Wolsey Theatre courtesy of the highly-acclaimed Hull Truck Theatre later this month.

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A core set-text on the GCSE English syllabus, studied by up to 400,000 students each year, it follows a group of teenagers who try to cover their tracks after making the biggest mistake of their lives.

Their temporary harmony soon begins to unravel with dire consequences for the gang and others around them.

It asks how far would you go to hide the truth? Would you destroy someone’s life to save your own and protect your friends and, most importantly, when does a lie matter more than the truth?

James, perhaps most famous for playing Enders’ Martin Fowler – who knocked up Sonia Jackson [Cassidy], then later knocked over and killed her fianc� Jamie Mitchell – plays Phil.

It’s a role, he admits, that right now is “doing my head in”.

“That’s good though. Just playing yourself, something you understand, can be a little tedious. I don’t know mate, sometimes I feel like why do I do this to myself,” he laughs.

“You think you’ve got your head round it and then suddenly it all goes and you have to sort it out again. I think I’m going through sorting it again right now. That’s a good place to be in when you’re about to go on tour for months with a play.

“Everyone around [me] all seem to know what they’re doing and seem really cool and I’m just a bit oh man... I’m never any good at pretending I’m good at this. I feel like everyone can see straight through me.

“I’m going to get caught out soon; they’re just going to go ‘you should give this up James’,” he laughs, despite having an impressive list of stage, TV, film and radio credits; including tons of Shakespeare.

The cast has been rehearsing for three weeks and, self doubt aside, it’s going well.

“The play itself is looking marvellous and it’s very exciting,” adds James. “I’ve not seen it [the play] before and wasn’t really aware of it to be honest until I got the audition.

“I started chatting to a few friends about it and it turns out everybody knows this play and there’s good reason – it’s good. When I read it I wanted immediately to read it again; that’s a good indicator. The play says something positive and the character itself was a challenge.”

Phil’s an outsider, in fact he only talks about three or four times during the whole play. While not involved in the killing, he jumps at the chance to join the gang; coming up with plan to cover up the death and taking responsibility for those responsible.

The play takes a dark, deep look at the human condition; what it is to be human, what our instincts, our nature is and the hierarchy we form among groups.

It’s big, philosophical, but, says James, deals with it in such a way that it’s easily digestible and accessible.

“It’s not a lot of dusty old people talking it out; it constantly moves forward. I hope people walk away and chew over it for a few days afterwards, I think it’s that’s sort of play.

“You want people to go home and just go ‘oh, that moved me, why’? That’s why you act.”

The teenagers populating the play’s mini-universe represent today’s society, James says; the way we all turn a blind eye to the sometimes horrific things that happen at home or abroad; pushing it out of our minds so we don’t feel responsible.

“There’s all sorts of ways of looking at it [the play] you know? I don’t buy into this society’s crumbling stuff,” he counters, though.

“I think every society from the dawn of time probably thought theirs was the worst, most violent, most disruptive. I think that’s just society being self-conscious.

“I think because it’s young people acting in a very dark way, covering up a killing even though it was accidental; I think it can sound on the surface that they’re a load of chavvy types but they’re not - they’re just normal kids who happen to have messed up and I think everyone can relate to that.

“[Everyone’s] drunk too much and smashed a window, threw eggs at someone’s house or done something stupid when you was a kid and I think that’s what these kids did; it all got out of hand and it was tragic in the end and now they have to deal with it.”

You can find out how they deal with it by visiting the New Wolsey Theatre on February 28-29.

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