"We live in strange times where there is so much poverty and starvation and yet so much excess. With economic collapse and an earthquake every other minute somewhere in the world, it makes you wonder what the next 30 or 40 years will bring.”
This isn’t a political activist or charity campaigner talking, but former EastEnder’s star Tracy-Ann Oberman, best known for playing Chrissie Watts, the woman who put a fatal end to Dirty Den’s villainous ways.
Nearly six years since leaving the Square, people still think she’s living in Walford, but Oberman has recently had her celebrated claws stuck in to something more political.
Currently preparing to star in Rupert Goold’s sell-out play Earthquakes in London, Oberman speaks to The Huffington Post UK as she navigates her way through Plymouth on a short rehearsal break.
She explains she signed up this summer after being sent the script for the acclaimed all-singing, all-dancing, cabaret-packed production, about to set off on its first UK tour.
“I knew Mike Bartlett [the playwright] a bit and I obviously know the work of Rupert Goold very well, I’ve loved everything that Headlong the touring theatre company have ever done…
“It really spoke to me, there’s a line in the play that says ‘it’s the Weimar Republic time, it’s cabaret time, it’s near the end but the enemy this time has no guns and gas chambers, it’s the world we live in’ and I really can see that right now.”
The play, which is set in London - starting in 1968 and playing through to 2525 - tells the tale of modern excess, population explosion, family crisis – and ultimately the end of the planet.
It’s a production that presents issues that we’re dealing with now, claims Oberman.
“The play, when it was written, was a political piece about climate change but actually with everything that’s gone on with the riots it feels like this apocalypse that he sees is very real.
“This idea that society is crumbling from within and it can’t carry on much longer. It’s more that an earthquake is an earthquake of everything we know.”
Does she think the London riots were a cultural uprising or a criminal act?
“Well wasn’t it something like 80 per cent of the people involved in the riots had criminal records anyway? I think that probably needs to be looked at. The fact that there’s so much instability and that they were allowed to go on like that worries me, they weren’t nipped in the bud at the beginning. I think it was criminal activity but I think there’s probably an underlying issue.”
Oberman who plays the lead role of Sarah, the eldest of three sisters, all struggling with issues that have arisen from modern day lifestyles…
“Sarah’s the minister for climate change in the coalition government, she’s totally driven by work and trying to get her green message across, while her marriage is collapsing around her ears.
“The middle sister is pregnant and going through a major depression and sees apocalypse everywhere and the youngest sister is destroying herself on drugs and sex and booze. Sarah’s trying to keep that altogether while pushing forward the green message.”
Although Oberman says Mike’s play has a apocalyptic vision to it and there’s a lot in the play that people will recognise about excess in the Western world, that’s not the reason she wants people to come and watch it.
“Really I hope it attracts people back to the theatre, it’s exciting theatre and every bit as good as watching television.
“There’s a line that says ‘why would I want to go to the theatre? It’s just like the television but more expensive and further away.’ It would be great if it attracted more people back in to the theatre, which I think is what playwrights like Mike are doing.”
With the number of people arrested in relation to the riots exceeding 2,500 with more than 1,500 of those facing charges, it seems the perfect time for a play about anarchism, excess and the end of life as we know it to bring people back to the theatre.
Failing that, Oberman says she’ll always return to EastEnders: “What’s so great about when you’re Chrissie Watts in EastEnders is that you have such an impact and so many people watch it. I’d love to return.”
Earthquakes starts on 22nd September at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.
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