The huge attraction of theatre is that anything can happen and that you can get it wrong, says Charlie Clements, best known as Bradley Branning in EastEnders.
With TV, you simply do it again. But there is no such luxury in theatre.
“And that’s why you do it. It is a test. If something goes wrong, you have got to try to get it back. That’s the thrill of it.”
And the thrill is also the murmuring of the audience as they try to outguess the detectives in Edgar Wallace’s The Case of the Frightened Lady, the play with which Charlie is currently on the road. It plays the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from February 5-10, courtesy of Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company.
When Inspector Tanner is called in to investigate a ruthless murder at Mark’s Priory, the grand ancestral home of the Lebanon family, he quickly discovers that nothing is quite as it seems.
The household is controlled by the family physician, the footmen behave more like guests than servants and the secretary Isla is afraid for her life. As Tanner moves closer to the heart of the mystery, he uncovers a shocking and closely-guarded secret…
Charlie is playing Tanner’s assistant, a role he is relishing: “The character is quite tenacious. His father was a police officer, and he has followed that path. He does the running around for Tanner. He does some of the interviewing, but whatever Tanner wants, he goes and does. But he has got his finger on the pulse. He is his own person. I am trying to make him at the moment a little bit more… well, intense is the wrong word. But he is meticulous. He strikes me as the kind of person that would notice every single little detail, and that’s what I am trying to get. And that’s the joy of theatre, that you can work at it and develop it.
“Theatre has been a big part of my career. I grew up doing theatre long before EastEnders, getting parts in shows. I have always loved live theatre, and then the television came along, and it was a complete world change for me.”
But he still loves the immediacy of the audience reaction you get on stage, particularly in something like this where you can sense the audience trying to work it all out: “It’s a good play. It’s one of those classic whodunnit crime thrillers, where you are trying to guess. No one I have spoken to so far has managed to get it right… which is good!” It’s Edgar Wallace which does create a kind of old-fashioned feel about it, but I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want it to feel old-fashioned. I want people to feel that it is still very relevant to today, and so far it has gone very well. We are on stage and we are dropping in quite a few things that are clues or red herrings, and sometimes you can actually hear gasps from the audience, which is the reaction you want!”