EastEnders boss Dominic Treadwell-Collins may be solving his Who Killed Lucy Beale? mystery before our eyes this week, but staging whodunnits is something he first tried at a much younger age.
“I used to sit in the stationery cupboard at school, read Agatha Christie books and write my own murder-mystery plays,” says the man masterminding live footage throughout this week to mark the soap’s 30th anniversary, with an entirely live episode on Friday. “Everyone else would be out doing cross-country. And my friend and I would be borrowing clothes from neighbours’ mums and acting out these plays.”
But there’s a big difference between scribbling in the stationery cupboard at Harrow and the demands of a primetime soap watched by millions. So what made him want to go live for EastEnders’ 30th-anniversary week?
“I am a bit masochistic,” he admits. “But you’ve got to keep pushing yourself. I was charged by Ben Stephenson [BBC controller of drama commissioning] with beating the 25th-anniversary live episode. Originally, I said we were just going to tell really good stories. He humoured me for a while, but eventually he turned round and said, ‘OK, what else are you going to do?’ And that’s when I came up with the idea of the live week.”
Is he a bit mad for taking this on? “Yes, you have to be. But doing it live means we can keep all our secrets. It’s terrifying, though. And it’s the same feeling of helplessness I had when I was directing plays at school aged 14. All I can do now is hand the work over to actors I trust.”
So what do the actors in question make of their task this week? We spoke to the key players hoping it’ll all be all right on the nights…
ADAM WOODYATT (Ian Beale)
You’re going live – what are you planning to do if you forget your lines?
I’m just going to pull out my phone, say, “It’s for you,” and then hand it over to whoever I’m with!
After 30 years playing Ian, do you like him?
Well, he is a bit of a d***head. He’s got to have some redeeming qualities – I’m just trying to find them. He’s appalling with his family. It would be nice if he finally got it right.
Is there any hope of that happening?
No, I can’t see it. Ever. He’s very good at saying all the right things, but all he does is shout at the kids and get it wrong.
DIANE PARISH (Denise Fox)
How are you feeling about the live episodes?
I’ve done theatre and I did the live episode for the 25th anniversary. And previously I did live TV on The Bill. But I don’t have a strategy. I’m trained – the lifeblood of actors is doing things live. And doing something like this puts a lightning bolt through the show – for these episodes, we’ll be living and breathing as our characters at the same time as our viewers.
Do you think EastEnders gets the credit that it deserves?
Not always. There’s always been a snobbery about soap and some people are rather scathing. But most of those who come and spend five minutes here realise you have to be pretty damn good to pull out the kind of performances we do, week after week. We make two movies a fortnight. Of high quality.
DANNY DYER (Mick Carter)
Are you feeling relaxed about the live episodes?
I thought I’d be fine, but every time I get reminded about them… I’m not worried about swearing – I’m very professional on set. But the idea of them being live is petrifying.
KELLIE BRIGHT (Linda Carter)
What are you going to do if you forget your lines?
Well, I’m going to learn everybody else’s script as well, so I’ll just say, “I know what you want to say to me…” and then deliver their dialogue for them!
Are you excited or anxious about the prospect of going live?
All the Carters are quite excited – but we’re also quite naive. For us, it’s a new thing because we weren’t here for the 25th. So we haven’t done it before. But I’m looking forward to celebrating afterwards.
LAURIE BRETT (Jane Beale)
Are you looking forward to Ian and Jane’s live wedding?
What is it about EastEnders and putting me in a wedding dress when it’s freezing cold? But Ian and Jane are soulmates, aren’t they? They’re Andy Capp and Flo.
Why has EastEnders lasted three decades?
A lot of people have grown up with EastEnders and it’s part of their lives. But you can’t go 30 years without great storytelling. And people might say that it’s miserable, but you’re never going to catch us gathering daisies: we’re not Little House on the Prairie.
HARRY REID (Ben Mitchell)
Are you OK about acting live?
Well, I’ve dried on stage, but there’s so much room for improvisation in the theatre. You can run around, do a dance, distract the audience for a while. But if I do that on EastEnders, I’ll be out of shot and the camera will be on a blank wall. But I’m so happy and excited to be here at this time – I’m aiming to smash it as much as I can!
And if it does go wrong?
I’ll just say that I killed Lucy. And we end the episode there. Doof-doof-doof. A short ten-minute episode. If it does go wrong, expect that. And I might even improvise a monologue after the confession.