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Kara Tointon
Photo by Rob Greig

Kara Tointon interview: 'It's hard to keep a straight face'

Former ‘EastEnders’ actress Kara Tointon talks about her rebirth as a West End star via the plays of Sir Alan Ayckbourn

By rights, four years as the incorrigible flirt Dawn Swann on ‘EastEnders’ and a spot on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ should have led Kara Tointon into a downward-spiralling career trajectory that culminated in chomping into a deepfried camel penis on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’. Instead, the 29-year-old from Essex is now back with ‘Relatively Speaking’, her second West End play in under two years by uber-prolific, back-in-fashion theatre legend Sir Alan Ayckbourn. She co-stars with Felicity Kendall, Jonathan Coy and Max Bennett in Lindsay Posner’s revival of this 1967 hit about a young woman trying to break things off with her married lover.

You went from soap to ‘Strictly’ to ‘serious’ West End theatre. How?
‘My family laugh at me because somehow I’ve got away with it! I got an agent when I was 11 and they’d always send me to audition for television adverts and things like that. I wound up in this niche where theatre passed me by, but it was the original reason I became an actress. It’s been great to go back.’

Yet the tabloids are more concerned that your boyfriend is Artem Chigvintsev, who partnered you on ‘Strictly’...
‘I learnt so much a few years ago, it’s perhaps changed the way I am now. It’s my instinct to talk to everyone but I realised very quickly I can’t do that anymore. I hate reading about people’s relationships and I can’t see why anyone would want to read about mine. I don’t really notice that stuff anymore – it’s all in the past, and even then it was a bit weird. That said, I’ll admit I am guilty of Googling myself occasionally, just for a little check.’

‘Relatively Speaking’ is your second Alan Ayckbourn play in as many years. What’s the attraction?
‘The way he’s written 80-plus plays, it’s ridiculous. He has a formula that, like Marmite, you either love or you hate. I personally love it, it’s so my type of comedy. It’s generally very hard to keep a straight face’
Ayckbourn is having a comeback – why is that?
‘People want to go to the theatre and have a laugh, and Alan’s stuff is very dry, very British, very funny. I met him when I did “Absent Friends”. He watched our first run-through and it was the most nervewracking experience ever. But he’s been a great support. Our director [Lindsay Posner] has been able to call Alan every night to ask questions, and that’s rare. We’ve even made changes that Alan’s allowed. He’s hands-on.’

What are some of the challenges with playing Ginny, your character?
‘She’s actually a very easy part to play, a young girl who’s been having affairs with older men, and obviously it’s not working out – she’ll never be these guys’ first choice because they’re all married! She meets Greg [Bennett] and he’s wonderful, so she’s decided to give herself a shot at an actual relationship. But first, she has to end things with the married man she’s having an affair with. The play is all about mistaken identities. It’s hilariously funny, but what really fascinates me is the dynamic between men and women, the way marriage used to work versus how it works now. It’s changed so much.’

Do people see too big a difference between low-and high-brow art?
‘As an actress you have a few scenarios. The ideal route is to go to drama school, get an agent at the end of your three years, go into theatre, then go into film. But I started young and no one in my family had ever done it before, so everything I’ve done has been on a real learning curve. There have been opportunities that have come my way and, honestly, I’ve been slow in grabbing them. Sometimes I’m gutted I didn’t do things differently. But I try not to have any regrets. I went into the unknown and it’s now my profession – how lucky am I?’
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