Ex-EastEnder Dean Gaffney starring in Agatha Christie mystery A Murder Is Announced at Derby Theatre
AFTER spending 11 years playing Robbie Fowler in the TV soap EastEnders, followed by a stint on reality shows such as The Club and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Dean Gaffney is delighted to be finally returning to his theatrical roots.
The 34-year-old actor takes the role of Patrick Simmons in the Agatha Christie thriller A Murder Is Announced at Derby Theatre and he sees it as a step towards building a theatrical career for himself.
"I was only 15 when I landed the role in EastEnders and, of course, it was an amazing opportunity," he says. "As an actor, you have no idea how long a role like that is likely to last but, when offered the chance to be in a show where your face enters people's living rooms four nights a week, you don't say no."
Dean joined EastEnders before the age of multiple-channel TV and he rapidly became a household name for his portrayal of the likable Robbie. He admits that this level of exposure has positive and negative consequences.
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"Once you are on that celebrity train, it brings opportunities your way but, on the downside, everything you do is very much in the public domain," he points out.
Stage actors often remain relatively anonymous for years, gradually honing their skills and Dean is relishing the chance to return to the stage and further develop his craft.
Although EastEnders was Dean's big acting break, his talents had already been recognised. In 1991, aged 14, he took a role in the West End as the Boy in Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, starring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.
"That was a fantastic experience. I do like stage work," says Dean, who also appeared in another Agatha Christie thriller, The Unexpected Guest, back in 2007, playing a 19-year-old murder suspect with learning difficulties.
In A Murder Is Announced, Dean again plays a character who draws suspicion as a newcomer to the village. But is he guilty?
Dean is giving nothing away but he is full of praise for the intricacies of the plot.
"As you rehearse, you really appreciate what a clever writer Christie was," he says. "There are multiple suspects and many red herrings so the audience is constantly swinging around in their assessment of who carried out the murder.
"This creates an interesting challenge for the actors as we all have to convince the audience we are the guilty one, whether we are or not."
The play opens with the villagers of Chipping Cleghorn agog with curiosity after an announcement appears in the local gazette which reads: "A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29, at Little Paddocks at 6.30pm."
Although they assume it is a cruel joke, they are unable to resist the mysterious invitation, so a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time.
Without warning, the lights go out and what follows is a classic Christie puzzle of mixed motives, concealed identities, a determined inspector and the indomitable Miss Marple.
The production is a real change of pace for Dean having arrived at rehearsals straight from a panto run at Clacton's Princes Theatre in the role of Buttons.
Although he is enjoying being back on stage, life has felt less certain after leaving EastEnders in 2003. After 11 years of a secure income, he has become more aware of the periods of financial uncertainty which afflict most acting careers.
"I have a family to support and, though I would love to get more deeply into serious theatre, maybe even do some Shakespeare, I have to stay open minded about the opportunities that might arise in the future," he says.
Dean confirms that a recent story about him applying to become an M15 agent was true: "I answered an advert for MI5. I've no idea how the press found out. It seems ironic that it was an application to a secret service organisation."
WHAT: A Murder is Announced.
WHERE: Derby Theatre
WHEN: January 29-Feb 2
TICKETS: Call 01332 593939 or visit www.derbytheatre.co.uk