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Faye Brookes looks back on career success as she prepares for dream role

She’s an absolute charmer. Faye Brookes, award-winning star of Coronation Street and almost-won-it competitor on Dancing On Ice. Polite, bright and witty, she’s clearly driven to succeed but retains plenty of humility and good grace.

Faye Brooks is revelling in her role in Chicago
Faye Brooks is revelling in her role in Chicago

Her warmth, however, ought not to be confused for softness, You don’t go from Knutsford High School to the red carpet as a winner at the National Television Awards if you’re not made of strong stuff. And when Brookes talks about her craft, about facing down rejection, about being knocked down but getting up over and again, her resilience and toughness are evident. There’s an inner steel that gets her through, that helps her to keep going when the going gets tough.

She expressed an interest in musical theatre as a kid and after attending Guildford School of Acting she won the Principal’s Choice Award then moved seamlessly into TV and theatre. Coronation Street provided her with her big break, in which she was cast as Kate Connor, playing opposite screen brother Aidan, played by X Factor winner Shayne Ward. A stint on Dancing On Ice cemented her place in the nation’s consciousness and now she’s back on the road, playing the lead in Chicago, which visits Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Monday until Saturday next week (October 25-30). She’ll be starring alongside Sinitta, Darren Day, Divina De Campo, Djalenga Scott and Scott Montague in the production. Her character, Roxie Hart, is a gift.

Faye Brooks. A scene from the International Tour of Chicago The Musical @ King's Theatre, Glasgow.(Taken 11-09-2021)©Tristram Kenton 09-21(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

She says: “It’s definitely been a while since being on the stage and it’s been unbelievable from the start. The process began in lockdown with the audition. I never believed I’d get the opportunity to do this because we were moving through a new world of Zoom and it was a very, very strange time to get work.

“I had the fortunate job of Dancing on Ice during the pandemic. But Roxie in Chicago was a dream role that I’ve been waiting to get the opportunity to audition for. It was an ongoing process for six months and to finally get it is a dream. I love this role, that’s not a line I have to say to you.”

Brookes has dazzled in theatre before, not least as Princess Fiona in Shrek or as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Roxie, however, is a different sort of gravy. “I have played roles in the past that people may have been very familiar with, like a Disney princess. But this is different, When I accepted the role, the producers and creatives told me they wanted me to have a personal journey. They’ve given me a lot of freedom.

“There have been real legends who’ve played this role before me but I’m not stepping into their shoes. I’m discovering Roxie’s personality night after night in different venues. She’s so complicated. She’s like an onion that you keep peeling away at because there are so many layers. Everybody assumes I’m just filling shoes but I’m not. I’m creating my own footsteps.”

Roxie Hart is a remarkable character. Ginger Rogers played her in the 1942 film while Rennee Zellweger featured in the 2002 Oswar-winning remake. Liza Minnelli, Christie Brinkley and Bebe Neuwirth are among those who’ve played her in the musical version.

Faye Brookes as Princess Fiona in Shrek at Birmingham Hippodrome

“There’s nothing cute about Roxie, that’s something I was told from day one. If you think you can manipulate her with cute tricks, then think again because it won’t work.

“She’s very, very clever and is always one step ahead of the game. So she knows exactly what she’s doing and that’s the character I have to portray. Her dreams and ambitions are very relatable. I just love her gumption and the way she can be slightly child-like. She’s not silly or stupid, she’s very clever, but she’ll throw a tantrum to get her own way. That’s very alien to me because I hate confrontation. I take on new ideas when I play a character like this.”

One of those new ideas is self-indulgence. “There’s an assumption about performers that we must all love ourselves and have bucketloads of confidence. In fact, it’s totally the opposite. But over time you realise it’s okay to be insecure in a particular moment. Being vulnerable is actually quite beautiful. Showing that I’m human and breaking down is important. It’s about how you pick yourself back up and go again. We’ve all gone through real, real lows but we come back stronger. That’s the beauty of theatre.”

Touring means she’s away from home for a year, though that’s a life she’s grown used to. While it’s not easy to be away from significant others, she gets to run home on Wednesdays to kiss loved ones and reconnect with the outside world. “We work very hard when we do eight shows a week and we don’t get any plaudits for that. But we are living our dreams and I wouldn’t change it for the world. These are the experiences that make us who we are. I love my job. If I have to sacrifice a year by being on the road, that’s okay. I get to visit places like Wolverhampton that I’ve never been to before and I love the sense of adventure.

“We’ve been stuck in the house for 18 months so now we have to travel it’s good fun. We become a small family on the road. I think there’s a real mix of us in this cast. It’s the most wonderful cast I’ve ever worked with.”

Sinitta is the company’s mother hen, a mature professional who makes sure everyone’s okay. “She’s been wanting to take care of us from the moment she walked into the studio. Then there are people we gravitate to naturally who understand where you’re at. I’m getting on with everybody in different ways. I spend most of my time with Djalenga Scott. I don’t know how I’d do the show without her. I’ve heard horror stories about Thelma and Roxie not getting on but in our case we have a great bond.”

Faye Brookes will be familiar to many people as Kate Connor from Coronation Street

There’s time to reflect on her years in Coronation Street, as the popular character Kate Connor. “I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I had an assumption about soap actors and how it all works. I thought it would be easy, then I stepped on to the Street and I was completely blown away. I could not believe the fact that you have to know your craft inside out and back to front, then come in day after day and deliver.

“It is quick. You jump on the train and you don’t stop. I was very, very lucky to be brought into such an iconic family as the Connors. I was into family history as soon as I got there. I was given a family tree. I was looking at all the people who’d been there before me and it’s incredible.

“I’ve been watching it since I was a little girl. To be in it and up against these wonderful actors was incredible. I would gladly go back. For now, I am just loving my life back on the stage but if the timing was right, I’d happily return.”

Dancing On Ice provided a fillip during the pandemic, giving her profile a boost and providing great quality work while others were at home. “I was never going to do Dancing On Ice, it wasn’t the show for me. But we were in the pandemic and I was offered the opportunity to do an athletic sport and get to dance. I was well up for the challenge and it was brilliant.

“How lucky was I that I got to work with professionals who were incredible?

“The crew and the coaches were remarkable too. Putting on a show in the pandemic was challenging and it was hard to keep ourselves safe and do our job. But it felt great to be putting on entertainment for people at home.

"The gig was tough, of course. It’s not easy to dance on ice at the best of times, particularly when you’re being followed by cameras. I would be laughing at myself if I didn’t say it was hard,” she adds.

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