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Brief Encounter with … Brooke Kinsella

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Brooke Kinsella's portrayal of Eastenders’ tough and tenacious Kelly Taylor, who she played for two years, made her into a well-known face. This week however she is taking on something entirely different, starring in S-27 at the Finborough Theatre. The play, by Sarah Grochala, is the winner of Amnesty International’s first Protect The Human Playwriting Competition. Here we chat to her about the role.

Could you tell us a little bit about S-27 and your character?

It’s based on a Cambodian prison camp and the photographs of people before they get executed, the last photographs. I am the photographer’s assistant who by the end of the play ends up becoming the photographer. She goes on this real journey where she completely gets brainwashed by the regime, and although there’s only six or seven scenes there’s some really good relationships there. It’s a really nice, meaty character to play.

That sounds like pretty serious stuff. Were these issues ones you were aware of before being cast?

I didn’t and I’m so ashamed to admit it. When I was approached the project was described to me as a political war play and I was like, ‘oh no, I’d be useless at that, I don’t know anything about politics’. I just thought, it’s not something I could do justice to. But when I got the script it was absolutely amazing and the reason is that although it’s based on Cambodian secret prison camps and the photographs that went on there it’s actually been made very general, so it can relate to any time, any country, any place.

That’s what I love about it, that even if you don’t know anything about Cambodia or issues such as this you can watch it and think ‘oh God, that is a really horrific thing for humans to be doing’.

Has it been difficult to immerse yourself in such harrowing issues?

I tend to do gritty, controversial work anyway. I don’t think I’m ever really going to be the heroine or the princess, I always tend to be either the drug addict or the prostitute or the rape victim, so although this is horrific, it’s not as traumatic for me.

Have you had to do a lot of preparation for the role?

We’ve been trying to do as much research as possible. Lots of documentaries and books to read up on the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia; I’m trying to fit in as much as possible. But although it really is based on that and highlights that whole issue I really love that it can be watched by anyone. It’s just an amazing piece of writing.

After your long stint in Eastenders, most people would probably associate you more with TV than theatre, but which do you prefer?

When you’re doing TV you want to do stage and vice versa; the grass is always greener. Since I left Eastenders pretty much all I’ve done is stage, which works out really well for me because it’s what I’ve wanted to do, it’s such a change. And while they both have their pros and cons, you will never ever be able to beat the buzz and adrenalin of live stage performance. As scary as it is, the good far outweighs the fear. Just getting that immediate response from the audience; knowing how they feel about something immediately afterwards, you can’t beat that. It’s a lot more hard work the stage, most definitely, but it really is worth it if you put the effort in.  

Having not known very much about Amnesty and the topics that S-27 explores before doing the play, do you feel you’ve had your eyes opened?

I know this is a major issue that I should know more about, but the thing that I love is that I didn’t and reading this play had made me want to learn more about it. I really am interested in going off and doing my research and hopefully trying to help out. I love supporting any kind of charity and from what I hear Amnesty do amazing things, so I’d most definitely be up for getting involved and doing what I can.

 - Brooke Kinsella was speaking to Jo Caird

S-27 is at the Finborough Theatre from 9 June to 4 July.


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