Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie star in The Perfect Murder coming to a number of venues across the area in the next few weeks. We spoke to both the Eastenders duo about their latest double act, performing on stage and how their relationship is translated to the theatre.
Who do you play in The Perfect Murder?
Jessie: I play Joan Smiley who has been married to Victor (Shane Richie) for 20 years and it’s a love-hate relationship. Well, all the love has gone.
Shane: At moments throughout the play you see there were times when Victor, who I play, and Joan were madly in love but sadly they never had children.
Jessie: That’s a lot to do with it, I think, because they mention it a lot during the play. I’m not sure if it’s her fault or his fault because she mentions she’d like to have a family with her lover. But basically the flame’s gone out and they both want excitement.
Shane: And they’re not finding it with each other, unfortunately.Without giving too much away, what prompts the murder that’s referred to in the title?
Shane: It’s to do with chemistry, cookery and downright violence. There are several ways both Victor and Joan talk about it and play around with it. Ultimately how it happens is really interesting.Jessie: It’s a real twist.
What do you have in common with your characters? And what are the big differences?
Jessie: I don’t put any of myself into it. I’d like to think that I have nothing at all in common with her, although you do sometimes find those things during the rehearsal period.
Shane: I have nothing in common with Victor. He’s like a blank canvas.
Jessie: Joan is a blank canvas but there are so many sides to her – there’s a funny side, a dark side, and that’s all down to Peter James’s writing. He’s so clever.
Shane: I’m always finding new things in Victor. Sometimes it’s when someone else says something about the character – not what Victor says but what Joan says about him or what her lover says about him. It will be interesting to see how the audience feels about Victor and Joan and who they are rooting for.
This is the first time you’ve performed on stage together… That must be really exciting?
Jessie: It really is. That’s part of the reason I wanted to do it – not just because of the great script but also getting to work with Shane on stage, which we’ve never done in 14 years of working together.
Are you friends as well as co-stars?
Shane: We’re great mates. Best mates.
Jessie: We’re on the phone to each other every day.
Who’s the biggest prankster?
Jessie: [To Shane] You are.
Shane: I knew you’d say me, but that’s not always the case. We’re always pulling pranks on each other, but there’s none we can repeat.
Jessie: [Laughs] No, we really can’t repeat them.
How do you feel your chemistry from EastEnders will translate in a theatrical setting?
Shane: It will be a different dynamic with a different set of rules. When we do the TV show together there’s a safety blanket and there’s always someone there to hold your hand. The characters we play on screen we both know inside out, but Victor and Joan are very alien to us. We’ll probably find out stuff about each other as actors from doing this, which will be really interesting because we’ve never done live theatre together before.
Jessie: It’s a completely new experience for us together. I’ve worked in the theatre a few times and I love the whole journey of it – from meeting everybody, like new cast members and the production team and the director, to making this product and putting it on stage. Going into it with Shane is another experience for me. As for the chemistry, it’s a great help.
Shane: We’ve got like a mental shorthand where we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we kind of prop each other up when we need to and step away from each other when we need to. As Jessie says, she’s done a lot of theatre and so have I and the first week is getting to know everybody, whereas we’ve already got that bond and we’ve known each other for the best part of 14 years. It’s about the characters, not worrying about getting to know each other as people.
What do you most enjoy about stage work?
Jessie: The buzz of performing in front of an audience. That’s why you become an actor in the first place. When you play the same role for years you don’t get stale as such but sometimes you can lose your zing a little bit. When you’re on stage you can do something new every night. You’re doing your craft, the thing you learned to do, and it’s even better when you’re doing it with your best mate. It’s just great.
Shane: I miss the butterflies when I’m not doing theatre. A lot of people in the business don’t like that but I love that thing of not being sure if you’re going to pull it off or not. There’s a danger if you’re in a long-running show where, although it doesn’t stop being enjoyable, you’re not being tested. With film or television if you get it wrong you stop and do it again, but with theatre there’s a lot of people out there to see you get it wrong.
Jessie: But if you get it wrong, when you’re working with someone so closely and you know each other inside out if you do drop the ball – which we won’t – the other person is there to catch it.
What are the particular challenges for you in The Perfect Murder?
Shane: The challenge is that the characters are so far removed from who we play on television.
Jessie: Because we’re doing this together and we’re playing a married couple there is that worry that people will compare it to what they’re used to seeing us do together. But the characters are so different. Just because it’s ‘Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace’ doesn’t mean it’s going to be ‘Kat and Alfie’. He’s done a lot of other stuff and so have I.
Shane, you’re a big fan of Peter James’ books, aren’t you?
Shane: I am, yes. I’d read several of his books before I knew about The Perfect Murder. I had the honour of meeting him and we had dinner together, not thinking for one moment I’d be doing one of his pieces on stage.
Jessie: Shane introduced me to his books and he’s an amazing writer.
Shane: Hopefully people will come along to the play because they’re Shane and Jessie fans or EastEnders fans or whatever, but we’re forgetting there’s a big Peter James audience out there and they’ll come along regardless of who is playing Victor and Joan. There’s a lot of love and respect out there for him as an author. It’s slightly naïve to think people will only come along because they’re EastEnders fans. They’re coming to see a great story. Peter’s not a multi-million-selling author for nothing.
The Perfect Murder has a comedic element, doesn’t it?
Jessie: It does, yes. It can be really dark then it’s funny, but playing it straight is what makes it funnier.
Shane: I always say ‘Never burlesque burlesque’. The straighter we play this the funnier it can be. When I say ‘funny’ I mean ‘uncomfortable funny’. It’s like laughing at a funeral. I’ve been at funerals where I’ve gotten that nervous laughter and the play has a little bit of that in it. It’s dark and macabre.
Do you like a good thriller yourselves?
Shane: I haven’t been to see many of them on stage. People talk about The Woman In Black but I’ve never seen that, for instance. So when I can find the time, I will go and see it!
Jessie: I did a horror story on stage once called Haunted. I played a woman who lived in a block of flats in South London who becomes possessed by this Bill Sykes character. People were scared and I could see why that would be fun. I’m a horror film fanatic and to scare somebody is a real achievement. To make someone laugh is also an achievement but to scare them is a real buzz.
Shane: It’s great when you’ve got a few performances under your belt, you know where the laughs and the scares are, and then you can play with the audience.
Do you think that audiences will differ around the country?
Shane: It’ll be interesting to see audiences right round the country with The Perfect Murder. It will be interesting to see where they may find it funny or not funny, but I think they’ll certainly be scared.
What’s the one thing you can’t be without when you’re touring with a play?
Jessie: [Laughs] A pair of draws.
Shane: And directions to the theatre. But we’re travelling together, which is great, and we’re only actually away from home for three weeks – when we’re in Dublin, Edinburgh and Newcastle – otherwise we’ll be commuting together. [Laughs] I’ll probably end up killing her for real by the end of it.
Jessie: [Laughs] You know what, I’ve changed my mind!
Shane and Jessie, is it fun playing another bickering couple?
Jessie: It is but it’s a completely different vibe to Kat and Alfie. The bickering is completely different.
Shane: Underlying Victor and Joan’s story there’s an undercurrent of ‘Someone’s going to commit murder’. It’s a very different love as well – it’s like love/loathe. It’s as far removed from Kat and Alfie as Ant and Dec. Getting inside Victor’s head and what he thinks he’s going to do, without giving too much away, is interesting.
The Perfect Murder comes to Northampton’s Royal and Derngate theatre from Monday March 14 to Saturday March 19. For tickets call the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk. It then goes to Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday March 21 to Saturday March 26. For tickets call the box office on 01223 503333 or visit www.cambridgeartstheatre.com. The tour finishes at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from Tuesday March 29 to Saturday April 2. Tickets for the show can be booked by calling 024 7655 3055 or visit www.belgrade.co.uk.