WITH 10 years of growing up in one of soapland’s most famous addresses, James Alexandrou could possibly have had his pick of TV jobs.
But the actor who took Martin Fowler from boy to man on EastEnders has been honing his craft in the lower profile world of theatre.
Having ticked one box playing Romeo at The Globe, DNA, a tough-talking tale of adolescent cruelty penned by Dennis Kelly of Matilda The Musical fame, has him at the Crucible Studio for the first time next week.
James seems to be making up for lost time since leaving the Square, aged 21.
“It was quite a conscious decision. I realised there’s a lot to learn,” he says of his move into theatre. “I’d learned how to be in a soap and it was time to learn how to be an actor, really, which is a different discipline.
“Having done 10 years, my formative years, you want to get away, like living in your home town growing up you come to a point where you think ‘I want to get away from this’. That’s where I got to and I didn’t want to go and do more of the same. What’s the point?
“I wanted to step up a bit and get involved in different types of projects.
“I didn’t really want to go and do another TV show in the same vein or a similar character because it gets a bit boring and unfulfilling.”
Since then James has taken roles in The Back Veil, Gertrude’s Secret (at Buxton Opera House), All Quiet On The Western Front, In My Name, As You Like It and Henry V as well as working for BBC Shakespeare and a handful of film parts.
“Initially when I left I was a bit of an angry young man; ‘I want to be a real actor, be seen as this or that’.
“But I’ve grown proud of what I did and it’s been lovely since because I have done things that were very different and good quality.
“I’ve been able to look back and be quite accepting.
“Sometimes EastEnders feels like it was yesterday.
“When I’m around mum and dad’s they sometimes flick on the show. The majority of people on there are new, but some of the guys who were there when I was I still chat to.”
In contrast to much of the Shakespeare he has undertaken, DNA is a modern day story of how a group of teenager react when their actions cause the death of a friend.
Although the circumstances are extreme, James believes many will connect with the premise.
“I have to be quite staunch on this; it isn’t about gangs, we’re not a gang at all. It’s easy to see that by reading the play but they’re just a group of kids,” says the actor.
“Nowadays everything’s a gang, but these are a normal group of school kids and they happen to have taken it too far one day and one of them accidentally gets killed.
“These things can happen. I remember running around on a Friday night after school getting up to no good. You push the boundaries and they’ve gone one step too far.”
The killing of Adam actually happens before the play has started, but James says in a sense the actions taken to cover that up are worse. “Because it is now calculated, whereas the killing of this kid wasn’t. It was an accident.
“They take actions that are morally dubious and self preservational. Hopefully you can understand why they might do the things they do.”
We’ve all been kids at some point, some of us more reckless than others, so DNA potentially can appeal to a wide age group.
“I hope it does. I know it does. You should be able to watch this and see yourself as one of these characters and wonder ‘What would I have done in this situation?’ Whatever age you remember hanging out with mates at school, wanting to impress, to be part of a group and egging each other on to do stuff.
“On the surface it’s a story of these kids coming together to cover up, but there is a big message in there.
“There’s something here asking those very dark questions about our own nature. We might look at a group of people and pigeonhole them as bad people, but you have to get underneath that and understand why they might do this.
“You should walk away from this play thinking ‘In that situation I might have taken the same steps’.
“There is that part of us that wants to preserve ourselves and there is definitely a ‘survival of the fittest’ aspect.”
DNA is at Crucible Studio February 9-11. Tickets, priced £15, from Sheffield Theatres’ Box Office in-person, by phone on 0114 249 6000 or online at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.