EastEnders star Charlie Brooks isn’t afraid of a little ‘raunchy’ contact
- Credit: Archant
She may have had a comfortable job in television, but the actress is risking it all to join the world of theatre, finds Alex Bellotti.
Considering she has spent over 15 years as a professional working actress, it sounds a bit strange when Charlie Brooks suggests she’s only just catching up on drama lessons. Yet having quit her A-levels back in 1999 to sign up for her award-winning role as Janine Butcher in EastEnders, she’s happy to admit she bypassed the learning curve most actors have to navigate in their early careers.
To the 32-year-old’s credit, she’s now keen to earn her stripes. Brooks left her comfortable soap opera job last year with the intention of building up her modest theatre portfolio – a decision which this month sees her appearing in a risqué new production at the Park Theatre.
Written by Michael Kingsbury and directed by Ian Brown, Contact.com is an explosive comedy about two couples who meet over the internet and get together for one night only.
While middle-aged Islingtonians Matthew and Naomi (Jason Durr and Tanya Franks) hope the evening will spice up their faltering marriage, the younger pairing of Ryan and Kelly (Ralph Aiken and Brooks) have other ideas and the night doesn’t play out quite as expected.
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“It’s a bit raunchy, but I think that’s a good thing,” Brooks says of the production. “It’s a play with themes of manipulation, class difference, sexuality and I think all of those things combined – especially when Tanya Franks came on board and we were all thrown into the mix together – made it very exciting.”
Is it strange having to perform the racy scenes in front of a live audience, considering the majority of her career has been spent mostly just playing to a camera?
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“One or two scenes involve a lot of tongue action, but, well, you’ll have to ask me after the opening night! As actors, people who aren’t in this kind of business think this must be really weird. We’ll come in and have a coffee at nine o’clock and suddenly I’m straddling someone and grinding on top of them and it’s like ‘Morning!’
“But then we’re eating our breakfast and chatting away, so I think it’s pretty normal for actors – though not for my boyfriend who I don’t think is looking forward to it!”
The boyfriend in question is architect Ben Hollington, who Brooks started dating two and a half years ago – roughly around the time she was crowned Queen of the Jungle on 2012’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
The actress – who is mother to 10-year-old daughter Kiki – says that following the break down of two previous marriages, she’s very happy in her current relationship, though I wonder if there are elements she can relate to in the older couple’s struggle to connect.
“Oh I swing most weekends!” she laughs. “No, I think with the Islington couple, I can understand how, when you’ve been with someone for a long time, it can become… almost embarrassing.
“A friend told me a story once about how their sex life was dwindling and I was like, ‘Well just do something fun’ and they said, ‘Oh my god, he’d laugh at me’. When relationships get to that point, I can kind of relate to that slightly.
“They’re very brave to go through with what they’re going through with I guess, while the younger couple are just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll have sex everywhere all the time!’”
In terms of her character, the Surrey resident says there is an innocence about Kelly which she enjoys trying to portray, and refreshingly she doesn’t feel there are too many similarities between the young lover and ‘soap bitch’ Janine.
While she understandably retains a fondness for the latter and has left the door open for a future EastEnders return, Brooks is making the most of the chance to learn on the job and says her new theatrical journey is akin to “being paid to go to drama school”.
Alongside Contact.com, she is also preparing to perform in and tour Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing later this spring, so she’s certainly proactive about developing her stage credentials.
“I just didn’t want to get to 50 and think why didn’t I have a stab at theatre and try other things outside the show?” she adds. “For me, I just got a bit comfortable and it’s quite nice to feel uncomfortable, if you know what I mean.”
Contact.com runs at the Park Theatre until February 14. Visit parktheatre.co.uk