Even if Tracy Ann Oberman hadn’t played EastEnders’ Chrissie Watts, the vengeful wife who finally finished off Dirty Den, the actress and playwright would have been dead keen to chair a panel show based on the wonderful world of soap.
“There’s a snobbery towards soap that I find baffling and misplaced,” she says. “Some of our best scriptwriters have come through soaps, huge stars such as Ian McKellen have appeared in them, and they are part of Britain’s cultural fabric to such an extent that even people who profess not to watch them know things about them. Soaps are their own art form. And when they’re great, they’re brilliant.”
But Oberman – whose career has seen her act alongside talents as diverse as Simon Pegg, Michael Barrymore and, in Doctor Who, an army of Cybermen – isn’t just the host of panel game Sud’s Law, she devised it, along with fellow soap addict Linda Marks.
“We were at a pub quiz and one of the questions was: what was the name of Minnie Caldwell’s cat? [Answer: Bobby.] It was then that Linda and I realised that a panel show about soaps – something with the irreverence and heart of Never Mind the Buzzcocks – would work brilliantly. A bit of me couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before.”
Recognising the DNA that soap and comedy share, she recruited as her panellists Shaun Williamson (otherwise known as EastEnders’ Barry Evans and a part-time player in Ricky Gervais’s Extras and Life Is Short), and Mark Little, known as Neighbours’ Joe Mangel and also a stand-up comedian. Completing the line-up are Susan Calman of Radio 4’s News Quiz and the doyenne of soap critics, Jaci Stephen.
At the moment, Sud’s Law is just a pilot, though Oberman says, “It would be lovely if it went to a series, but you never know with these things. But there’s also been interest from television companies, too.”
Oberman is surely used to the attention. Following the success of her 2010 Radio 4 play Bette and Joan and Baby Jane, about the relationship between Davis and Crawford on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she’s been commissioned to write another play. And later this year she will join the cast of ITV1 medical drama Monroe, starring James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish.
With Sharon Rickman (Letitia Dean) due back in EastEnders this summer, can Oberman imagine returning to the Square? “Never say never,” she laughs. “Though they’ll have to spring Chrissie from jail. Mind you, stranger things have happened.”