Tracy-Ann Oberman: Taking on Dirty Den, Daleks and Shakespeare ahead of new Stratford play

The former EastEnders star sat down with ITV News Central presenter Steve Clamp to discuss her new Shakespeare play in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Tracy-Ann Oberman has faced some of television’s most iconic and evil characters.

In EastEnders, she was watched by 18 million viewers as her character killed Dirty Den.

A year later, she would be facing even bigger challenges, battling Daleks and Cybermen in Doctor Who. But unlike her days on soap, she would be on the losing side here.

In the two decades since, her career has gone from strength to strength, with highlights including a regular role in sitcom Friday Night Dinner and appearing in After Life with Ricky Gervais.

But it’s her latest work that brings her to the attention of Midlands theatre-goers. 

The re-imagined version of Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' sees Oberman take on the title role of Shylock.

Think of Shakespeare plays and “sexy short and punchy” might not be the kind of description that springs to mind.

But according to Oberman, that is exactly what people can expect from her reimagining of The Merchant of Venice, which is now set in 1936. 

And Oberman herself has a very personal connection to that difficult period of British history.

“It’s very much based on my great-grandmother, coming over to England from Belarus, from all the pogroms and the violence," she said.

"And in 1936 she came face to face with Oswald Moseley and the British Union of Fascists and all the anti Semitism they were whipping up.

"I wanted to take this very difficult play about a Jewish money lender in Venice, who demands a pound of flesh, and I wanted to see what happened if you turned the money lender into a woman, a tough female matriarch like the ones I grew up with."

Oberman played the role of Chrissie Watts in Eastenders between 2004 and 2005.

She added: "What I love about this is we have taken all the fat off this play, it runs under two hours, I think people who have never seen a Shakespeare play will love it, it’s very accessible, history and political buffs will love it too as it has a strong political message.”

And while her love for the stage is clear, a smile still spreads across her face as I ask her to indulge my interest in her early television successes.

I am to this day amazed how actors of any soap, be it Coronation Street, Emmerdale or EastEnders manage to learn so many lines on a daily basis.

And that intensity hit her head on when she prepared for her role as Chrissie Watts, second wife of Dirty Den.

“It was crazy, I had done a lot of television but I had never done a soap and normally when you do a TV series on the first day you’ll have six scripts for an entire four month shoot," she said.

"I turned up to do EastEnders and 12 scripts turned up and that was just for the first two weeks! It’s like getting on a very fast moving train.”

Oberman played Yvonne Hartman in the two-part Doctor Who television story Army of Ghosts / Doomsday.

Dirty Den is one thing, but joining the cast of Doctor Who in 2006 for an epic two-part season finale with a whole army of Daleks and Cybermen was, for someone who admits to being a ‘Whovian’, rather special.

“I got to work with Daleks and Cybermen, then I got turned into a Cyberman in Army of Ghosts and in Torchwood, and it was brilliant," she said.

When I ask if the Doctor she worked with - David Tennant (who is soon to return to the show in a series of specials) is her favourite - I was reminded how far back her love for the programme goes.

“Well, Jon Pertwee I loved as I was very little then and Tom Baker will always be my favourite Doctor, but I do love David’s Doctor, I really do”.

Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and David Tennant: an impressive trio.

I dared not mention my favourite was the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

After all, I was still trying to feign an in-depth knowledge of the works of William Shakespeare.

But perhaps that wasn’t really necessary; the setting of this play in 1936, with it’s deep dive into the dark side of politics of the 1930’s has certainly spiked my interest, and with only a few tickets remaining, it seems I’m not the only one.

The Merchant of Venice 1936 runs at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 7 October before visiting Malvern's Festival Theatre from the 17th to the 21st.

And for those who miss this run, it returns to the Swan Theatre in January.

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